Oxfam ‘had culture of tolerating poor behaviour’, sex scandal report finds

Oxfam had a “culture of tolerating poor behaviour” and failed to report child abuse claims against its staff in Haiti, a damning report into the charity’s sex scandal has found.

The Charity Commission published its long-awaited findings into Oxfam’s handling of allegations that the charity’s aid workers used prostitutes after the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

Following an 18-month investigation, the regulator found Oxfam “repeatedly fell below standards expected, had a culture of tolerating poor behaviour and… failed to meet promises made on safeguarding, ultimately letting everyone down”.

Oxfam did not report allegations of child abuse by its staff in Haiti and failed to adequately investigate claims against a charity “boss” that children as young as 12 or 13 were victims of sexual misconduct, according to the 142-page report.

Oxfam’s failings amounted to “mismanagement”, the Charity Commission said, prompting the regulator to issue it with an official warning.

Charity Commission chief executive Helen Stephenson said: “What went wrong in Haiti did not happen in isolation.

“Our inquiry demonstrates that, over a period of years, Oxfam’s internal culture tolerated poor behaviour, and at times lost sight of the values it stands for.”

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Ms Stephenson added that “significant further cultural and systemic change” was required at Oxfam – which has been led by new chief executive Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah since January – to address the failings and weaknesses.

The Charity Commission criticised Oxfam for not trying harder to substantiate allegations of physical abuse, made via email from a 12-year-old and a 13-year-old girl, which were “suspected” not to be genuine by the charity at the time.

The risk to victims “appeared to take second place at times” and was not taken seriously enough, and victims, whistleblowers and staff who tried to raise concerns were let down.

Oxfam aid workers were alleged to have used prostitutes in Haiti after the devastating earthquake in 2010 and in Chad in 2006.

A man searches through the rubble in Port-au-Prince on January 18, 2010 after the country was rocked by a massive 7.0-magnitude quake
Image: Up to 230,000 people were reported to have died after the earthquake in Haiti

The claims were first published a year ago and resulted in more than 7,000 people cancelling their donations, forcing Oxfam to make £16m of cuts to its aid projects worldwide.

Oxfam held its own investigation following allegations by a whistleblower in 2011, which resulted in four people being sacked and three others resigning.

The aid worker at the centre of the scandal, Roland van Hauwermeiren, had reportedly joined Oxfam after he left another British charity over similar allegations of sexual misconduct.

Mr van Hauwermeiren – Oxfam’s former director in Haiti – resigned from his role with medical relief charity Merlin in Liberia in 2004 after an investigation into sex parties with local young women, according to humanitarian news website Irin.

TIMES STILL roland van hauwermeiren
Image: Roland van Hauwermeiren was Oxfam’s former director in Haiti

He denied the allegations but agreed to stand down, it added.

Oxfam also faced allegations prostitutes were used by its staff in Chad in 2006, where Mr van Hauwermeiren was the charity’s country chief at the time.

Following the Charity Commission’s report, Oxfam apologised for its “failure to prevent sexual abuse by its former staff in Haiti”.

Caroline Thomson, the charity’s chairwoman of trustees, said: “What happened in Haiti was shameful and we are deeply sorry. It was a terrible abuse of power, and an affront to the values that Oxfam holds dear.

“The Commission’s findings are very uncomfortable for Oxfam GB but we accept them.

“We now know that the 2011 investigation and reporting of what happened in Haiti was flawed; more should have been done to establish whether minors were involved.”

The allegations against Oxfam were described by Prime Minister Theresa May in 2018 as “absolutely horrific” and resulted in celebrities including actress Minnie Driver and singer Tallia Storm quitting their involvement with the charity.

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