Oxfam is one of our most famous global brands. Oxfam is in 90 countries. Yet, Oxfam’s power is concentrated in the hands of an all white male dominated executive team. Oxfam empowered themselves and was accountable to no one. Their supply of goods and services to aid recipients smacks of a benevolent dictatorship. So, the allegations of sexual abuse of its staff and aid recipients further confirm’s that they are an anachronism. Oxfam has done some good work but they are not too big to fail. Their assistance is replaceable by local charities. So, it is important that Oxfam’s poor governance is not used by the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg to stop government aid. The public trusted charities but Oxfam has damaged that relationship. Charities must change, but Oxfam’s survival is in jeopardy.
Oxfam formed in 1942 as a famine relief organisation and has since grown to become Britain’s fourth largest charity but the largest overseas. However, their famous bright green emblem is severely tarnished by allegations of a ‘full-on Caligula orgy’ and other allegations of sexual misconduct some of which include children.
Mr Van Hauwermeiren, Oxfam’s country director, and six other men are alleged to have been ‘using prostitutes, downloading “pornographic and illegal material”, bullying and intimidation’. Nonetheless, they received satisfactory references.
Oxfam sent Mr Van Hauwermeiren to Haiti although aware of sexual allegations against him while working for them in Chad.
Dame Barbara Stocking was Oxfam’s chief executive during the sexual misconduct investigation. She allowed Mr Van Hauwermeiren to resign with a month’s notice and no disciplinary action. Mr Van Hauwermeiren became a consultant for Oxfam in Ethiopia. He was then able to go on to become head of mission for Action Against Hunger in Bangladesh in 2012-14.
Dame Barbara, now president of Murray Edwards College, Cambridge gives her spluttering defence in the video below. She earns in the region of £80,000 a year as president, lives rent-free in a large house in Cambridge provided by the college and pays no utility bills. Dame Barbara rented her home for £1,750 a month in 2015.
Mark Goldring is Oxfam’s chief executive he feels ‘Great shame in the behaviour of those few who did not uphold Oxfam’s or society’s values’. But neither has Goldring. Goldring failed to act on allegations that a woman was coerced into having sex in return for aid in a disaster zone.
Goldring says that criticism is ‘out of proportion to the level of culpability’. And no one ‘murdered babies in their cots’. Goldring’s comments are arrogant and cold. Surely there is nothing more dishonest than sexual predators in the guise of a humanitarian preying on the vulnerable. Aid workers already take on god-like status.
Women and children, in disaster areas, war-torn or underdeveloped countries are most vulnerable. So payment for sex cannot be justified. As if selling one’s body is the achievement of a lifelong goal or some fair and equal transaction. We each need to challenge that narrative when we read or hear it.
Thus far, only Penny Lawrence, Oxfam’s deputy chief executive has had the good grace to resigned.
There is a crisis of confidence in the aid sector. So, Oxfam is not alone in having a culture of sexual abuse and exploitation. All charities have to change. But for Oxfam, the change may be too great.
Oxfam’s preordained food and services prevent democracy in aid. However, the Grand Bargain initiative is the great equaliser because gives aid recipients money. The cash gives the vulnerable dignity and choice which Oxfam’s model denies. A study shows that without extra cost 18% more people could be helped if cash was an aid tool. So, Oxfam’s all-encompassing imperial organisation is in jeopardy.
Charities should make their management diverse and introduce robust whistleblowing policies. ‘Since 1999 the National Crime Authority, or its precursor, have been warning that predatory paedophiles,’ are accessing children through charities. All charities should be part of ‘The Humanitarian Passport Initiative’ which detail an aid workers’ previous conduct.
Oxfam should have been leading the way but they chose impunity and arrogance over reform and it has lost the confidence of its sponsors and ambassadors. It’s hard to win back trust once broken so all in all Oxfam’s days look numbered.
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