Oxfam has long been known as an organization working on eliminating poverty in the world. Since its founding in 1942, Oxfam has worked in over 90 countries, including Greece, North Korea, and Cuba. Its work with those in need gained the organization a mostly positive reputation.
That is, until recently, when an investigation by The Times in London revealed that the organization knew that senior aid workers working in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake turned a rented villa into a makeshift brothel and hired prostitutes, but covered it up instead of being transparent with its supporters and colleagues.
“These allegations are deeply shocking and Oxfam must now provide the Charity Commission with all the evidence they hold of events that happened in Haiti as a matter of urgency,” said Matt Hancock, the British culture secretary in charge of regulating charities. “The reported historic behaviour of senior aid workers is abhorrent and completely unacceptable. Charities must ensure that they have the highest standards of transparency and safeguarding procedures in place to protect vulnerable people and maintain the trust of the public.”
The Times also reported that one of the workers involved in the scandal was Roland van Hauwermeiren, who was at the time the Oxfam director in Haiti. He has since admitted to sleeping with a woman whose family he was trying to help, but has denied hiring a prostitute. Van Hauwermeiren resigned from Oxfam in 2011.
There are also allegations that the scandal involved sexual relations with children. The United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) said that though Oxfam had told them they were launching an investigation into what happened in Haiti, they were unaware that it could involve minors, CNN reported.
“We often work with organisations in chaotic and difficult circumstances,” the DFID said in a statement. “If wrong doing, abuse, fraud, or criminal activity occur we need to know about it immediately, in full. The way this appalling abuse of vulnerable people was dealt with raises serious questions that Oxfam must answer.”
“We acknowledge that hundreds of Oxfam staff have done no wrong and work tirelessly for the people they serve, but the handling by the senior team about this investigation and their openness with us and the Charity Commission showed a lack of judgement. We have a zero tolerance policy for the type of activity that took place in this instance, and we expect our partners to as well,” said the statement.
Oxfam has denied allegations of covering up the scandal, saying that as soon as the information came to light, they dismissed four staff members and saw the resignation of three more. But those haven’t been the organization’s only losses. Recently, their deputy chief Penny Lawrence resigned because she felt responsible for allowing these scandals to occur under her nose. Oxfam has also lost actress Minnie Driver as an ambassador, who was “horrified” by the allegations.
Even more importantly, the organization is at risk of losing monetary support. Over 1,200 people have cancelled their donations to Oxfam, and the British government is considering revoking their public funding. This could seriously decrease the amount of work the organization does worldwide.
Even though there are still Oxfam workers who maintain the organization’s goals without causing scandal, perhaps it’s best for them to decrease their presence around the world until they can ensure that they’ve taken the proper steps to keep the people they are helping safe and respect human rights.
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