The charity is scrambling to make reparations after allegations of sexual misconduct in Haiti came to light
14 Febrero 2018 17:36
Oxfam has been hit with a sex scandal where reverberations are being felt throughout the entire development sector. Here, we break down everything you need to know.
What are the allegations against the charity?
A report by The Times last week alleges that aid workers within Oxfam paid for sex while on a mission to help people affected by the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Sources gave the newspaper an account of ‘serious sexual misconduct by a group of male aid workers’. The explosive report claims they threw parties with prostitutes at a guesthouse known as the ‘pink apartments’ rented by charity money. There are accusations that the sex workers were girls aged 14-16, but this has not been verified. Paying for sex is banned under Oxfam’s code of conduct and is against UN guidelines for aid workers.
What has Oxfam said it did at the time of the events?
The charity said it did not call the local police because the state of the country made it ‘extremely unlikely that any action would be taken’. Oxfam said it publicly announced an internal investigation into the allegations when they surfaced in 2011. However, the charity is facing accusations of covering up the scandal. Controversy deepened after it emerged there have been 123 allegations of sexual harassment at its stores as well.
How has Oxfam responded to the recent fallout?
The charity says it disclosed sexual misconduct to the charities regulator, but broadly has accepted its failings for dealing with the implicated aid workers. A spokeswoman for the Charities Commission said: ‘In August 2011, Oxfam made a report to the Commission about an ongoing internal investigation into allegations of misconduct by staff members involved in their Haiti programme. At the time, and based on the information provided, we were satisfied that the trustees were handling matters appropriately and did not have regulatory concerns.’
But the commission also claims that ‘there had been no allegations, or evidence, of any abuse of beneficiaries. It also made no mention of any potential sexual crimes involving minors.’ Oxfam is now scrambling to answer, with transparency, the extent to which they knew about the use of prostitutes on aid missions. The Charities Commission is also coming under fire for inadequately dealing with the claims at the time.
Who has resigned or been fired?
A number of senior aid workers were dismissed following an investigation in 2011. Four were sacked and three, including the country director, were allowed to resign before the investigation ended, the charity said. The Times reported that director Roland Van Hauwermeiren used prostitutes at a villa rented for him by the charity. At the time, Oxfam said he had left due to breaches of its code of conduct. It has since emerged that Van Hauwermeiren was given his job despite being ‘forced out’ of another charity role after claims he used sex workers were made against him in 2004.
Oxfam's Deputy Chief Executive Penny Lawrence also resigned on February 12, saying she took ‘full responsibility’ for the behaviour of staff ‘that we failed to adequately act upon’. Actress Minnie Driver has quit her role as Oxfam celebrity ambassador amid the backlash from supporters and donors.
What will happen next?
Aid Minister Penny Mordaunt has threatened to cut off taxpayer money going to Oxfam and is set to meet with bosses who will be made to explain the prostitution scandal. She accused them of lacking ‘the moral leadership at the top of the organisation’, and says government funding will be withdrawn if it fails to comply over safeguarding issues. Oxfam could also lose £29m in European funding because of its handling of sexual misconduct by senior staff in Haiti - and Chad -, officials in Brussels have said. There will inevitably be knock-on effects for the development sector more generally as well, with charity regulations being tightened.