Charity Commission reports on inquiry into Oxfam GB: “No charity is more important than the people it serves or the mission it pursues”

Oxfam – U.K. Charity Commission Report

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Oxfam welcomes Independent Commission’s Recommendations and commits to deepen culture change and safeguarding improvements
12 June 2019
Oxfam welcomes the final report of the Independent Commission on Sexual Misconduct, Accountability and Culture Change.

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Statement on UK Charity Commission judgement by Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International
11 June 2019
Oxfam Great Britain has today welcomed and accepted the UK Charity Commission’s judgement following its investigation into serious sexual misconduct by members of Oxfam GB staff in Haiti in 2011. Oxfam GB has apologized for its failings in its investigation and case management at the time and, as Executive Director of Oxfam International, I underline Oxfam GB’s apologies and reaffirm our organization’s abhorrence for, and zero-tolerance of, abusive behaviour, sexual or otherwise. It is a violation of everything Oxfam stands for. I would like to restate our confederation’s collective commitment to keep working hard to transform our work-place culture and improve our safeguarding systems. While this was the UK charity regulator’s report into Oxfam’s Great Britain affiliate, it is clear we can only challenge these abuses if we do it together as an international confederation…

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Charity Commission reports on inquiry into Oxfam GB: “No charity is more important than the people it serves or the mission it pursues”
Regulator finds culture of “tolerating poor behaviour” at Oxfam GB and concludes charity “failed to meet promises made”
11 June 2019 — Press release
Charity Commission publishes critical report on Oxfam GB, finding that aspects of the charity’s past record on safeguarding amount to mismanagement, and takes regulatory action.

Charities are being warned that no charity is more important than the people it serves or the mission it pursues, and that all are judged on their actions, not their words.

It comes as the regulator publishes a critical report on Oxfam GB, and finds that the charity repeatedly fell below standards expected, had a culture of tolerating poor behaviour, and concludes that it failed to meet promises made on safeguarding, ultimately letting everyone down.

The inquiry finds the charity failed to heed warnings, including from its own staff, that its culture and response around keeping people safe was inadequate, and made commitments to safeguarding that were not matched by its actions.

The report, which takes into account over 7,000 items of evidence, examines the charity’s handling of events in Haiti, and separately its more recent record on protecting people, including its beneficiaries, volunteers and staff, from harm.

It concludes that some of the charity’s failings and shortcomings amount to mismanagement, and the Commission has used its powers to issue Oxfam GB with an Official Warning, and Directions under Section 84 of the Charities Act 2011.

“Missed opportunities and a flawed response” – Oxfam GB and Haiti 2011
The regulator finds that the then executive of Oxfam GB mishandled aspects of its response to allegations of misconduct in Haiti in 2011.

Overall, the Commission concludes that there had been a “culture of poor behaviour” and poor accountability among staff in Haiti at the time, of which individuals took advantage.

The Commission also finds that the charity’s reports to donors and the Commission itself were “not as full and frank about the nature and seriousness of the incidents and problems in Haiti as they should have been”. The inquiry’s view is that Oxfam GB’s approach to disclosure and reporting was marked, at times, by a desire to protect the charity’s reputation and donor relationships.

Specifically, the inquiry found that the charity:
:: did not adequately follow-up whether victims of sexual misconduct in Haiti were minors
: did not report allegations of child abuse by Oxfam GB staff in Haiti, failing to take the risks to alleged victims seriously enough
:: dealt with staff members implicated in sexual misconduct in Haiti inconsistently, notably by appearing to treat senior staff more leniently than junior staff
:: missed opportunities to identify and tackle early warnings before the events in Haiti in 2011

“Repeatedly failed to meet promises made”– Oxfam GB’s wider record on safeguarding
The inquiry also examined Oxfam GB’s wider approach to safeguarding, historically, and more recently, and concluded that the charity’s own commitments and promises in the past were not always matched by its actions.

It says this results from its leadership, up to 2018, applying insufficient resources to keeping people safe from harm, and concludes that this and other systemic weaknesses amount to mismanagement in the administration of charity.

The inquiry also finds the charity missed opportunities to address issues raised by its own safeguarding staff, and exposed the charity to undue risk.

Specifically, the inquiry finds that:
:: resourcing and capability around safeguarding at the charity between 2015 to 2017 did not match the risks associated with the charity’s global reach and the nature of its work
:: the charity’s approach to safeguarding case work was at times unstructured and a lack of adequate assurance and oversight mechanisms meant trustees were unable to identify serious failures in case handling, including poor record keeping, failings of which the inquiry is “extremely critical”
:: weaknesses in the charity’s HR practices prior to 2018, particularly concerning problems around vetting and referencing and management oversight, led to a ‘culture of tolerance of poor behaviour’
:: as late as 2017, promises that the resources for safeguarding would be increased were not delivered…

…In a foreword to the report, Baroness Stowell, Chair of the Charity Commission, says no charity is more important that the mission it pursues or the people it serves:
:: No charity is so large, nor is its mission so important that it can afford to put its own reputation ahead of the dignity and wellbeing of those it exists to protect. But the implications of this inquiry are not confined to the failings of a single, big charity, because no charity is too small to bear its own share of responsibility for upholding the wider good name of charity.
:: Ultimately being a charity is more than just about what you do, it is also about the way in which you do it. The Charity Commission is determined to reassure the public that it understands this fundamental point and will work with the sector it regulates to demonstrate that fact in the months and years ahead.”