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Oxfam admits ‘moral failure’ over prostitutes scandal

  • Oxfam has been shamed into issuing a grovelling apology for its sex scandal  
  • Chief executive has admitted there had been a failure of 'moral leadership'
  • Whistleblower revealed abuse in UK stores and her pleas to bosses were ignored
  • Minister condemned the behaviour of some Oxfam staff as a 'complete betrayal'
  • Penny Mordaunt held meeting with Oxfam bosses where they told of their shame
  • Aid Secretary is also setting up a new unit to oversee safeguarding in the sector 

By Tim Sculthorpe, Deputy Political Editor For Mailonline and Daniel Martin Policy Editor For The Daily Mail and Kate Ferguson, Political Correspondent For Mailonline

Published: 17:55 EST, 11 February 2018 | Updated: 20:39 EST, 12 February 2018

Oxfam's deputy chief executive Penny Lawrence resigned this afternoon admitting she is 'ashamed' the prostitute scandal happened on her watch
Oxfam's deputy chief executive Penny Lawrence resigned this afternoon admitting she is 'ashamed' the prostitute scandal happened on her watch

Oxfam's deputy chief executive Penny Lawrence resigned this afternoon admitting she is 'ashamed' the prostitute scandal happened on her watch

Oxfam's deputy chief executive Penny Lawrence resigned this afternoon admitting she is 'ashamed' the prostitute scandal happened on her watch.

Ms Lawrence was the programme director for Oxfam's Chad and Haiti relief efforts, which have been plunged into scandal after investigations revealed staff paid victims for sex.

Ms Lawrence's decision to quit her £99,000 a year post came after Oxfam chiefs were hauled into Whitehall amid claims they should lose millions in taxpayer funding.

And a whistleblower said the scandal extended to UK Oxfam stores, where dozens of cases of abuse had been referred to bosses in recent years.

The charity's bosses issued a groveling apology to International development Secretary Penny Mordaunt and 'told of the deep sense of disgrace and shame' they feel.

The Aid Secretary announced a fleet of measures to toughen up oversight of the charity sector - including the creation of a new unit to urgently review safeguarding across all parts of the aid sector.

And she gave Oxfam one week to prove they will meet the proper high standards in handling allegations - or face having their funding pulled. 

Speaking after the meeting today, Ms Mordaunt said: 'This morning I met with Mark Goldring, Chief Executive of Oxfam, and Caroline Thomson, Oxfam Chair of Trustees.

'Oxfam made a full and unqualified apology – to me, and to the people of Britain and Haiti - for the appalling behaviour of some of their staff in Haiti in 2011, and for the wider failings of their organisation's response to it.

'They spoke of the deep sense of disgrace and shame that they and their organisation feel about what has happened, and set out the actions they will now take to put things right and prevent such horrific abuses happening in future. 

'They did not inform the Department for International Development at the time that this case involved sexual misconduct or beneficiaries.'

The whistleblower, Helen Evans - Oxfam's former global head of safeguarding - told Channel 4 News she begged senior staff, ministers and the regulator to act about sexual abuse allegations.  

Ms Evans detailed three new allegations made against Oxfam staff overseas in a single day.

She said: 'There was one of a woman being coerced to have sex in a humanitarian response by another aid worker, another case where a woman had been coerced in exchange for aid and another one where it had come to our attention where a member of staff had been struck off for sexual abuse and hadn't disclosed that, and we were then concerned about what he might be doing, and that was three allegations in one day.'

She also detailed what she termed 'abuse' of teenagers working in UK Oxfam shops by adult volunteers, many of whom were unchecked by authorities as to whether they were safe to be around youngsters. 

She told the programme of several cases of inappropriate conduct with children between 2014 and 2015, with one concerning a shop manager alleged to have attempted to force a young volunteer to drop charges against an adult male colleague who was said to have assaulted them.

Today Oxfam promised to cooperate with all enquiries in Haiti and whatever country where abuse is alleged as it scrambles to try to regain trust and credibility.

But Ms Mordaunt said that assurances 'are not enough' and promised to beef up scrutiny of the sector.

She said: 'Right across the charitable sector, organisations need to show leadership, examine their systems, ensure they have clear whistleblowing policies and deal with historical allegations with confidence and trust.

'My absolute priority is to keep the world's poorest and most vulnerable people safe from harm. In the 21st century, it is utterly despicable that sexual exploitation and abuse continues to exist in the aid sector.'

EU JOINS THREAT TO PULL MILLIONS FROM OXFAM  

The EU became the latest major donor to threaten to pull funding from Oxfam in the aftermath of a major scandal today.

Brussels spent almost £30million on aid with Oxfam last year. 

EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said: 'We expect Oxfam to fully clarify the allegations with maximum transparency as a matter of urgency, and we're ready to review and, if needed, cease funding to any partner who is not living up to the required high ethical standards.'

The EU provided Oxfam with 1.7 million euros ($2.0 million) in funding for work in Haiti in 2011, she said. 

She has written a letter to all charities to demand that they step up their safeguarding procedures and is creating a unit to 'urgently review ' safeguarding across the sector.

And she also pledged to step up Britain's international efforts tackle child sexual exploitation. 

The summons to Whitehall took place after ex-Aid Secretary Priti Patel has accused senior civil servants of ignoring abuse claims levelled against charity workers.

Ms Patel, who resigned in disgrace from the Department for International Development last year, warned the scandal was just the 'tip of the iceberg'.

Downing Street was unable to comment on whether Theresa May was aware of Ms Patel's concerns about senior civil servants or planned to act on them.   

Ms Lawrence said: 'I am deeply sad to announce that I have resigned as deputy chief executive of Oxfam GB.

'Over the last few days we have become aware that concerns were raised about the behaviour of staff in Chad as well as Haiti that we failed to adequately act upon.

'It is now clear that these allegations - involving the use of prostitutes and which related to behaviour of both the Country Director and members of his team in Chad - were raised before he moved to Haiti.

'As programme director at the time, I am ashamed that this happened on my watch and I take full responsibility.

'I am desperately sorry for the harm and distress that this has caused to Oxfam's supporters, the wider development sector and most of all the vulnerable people who trusted us.

'It has been such a privilege to work for such an amazing organisation that has done and needs to continue to do such good in the world.'  

Mark Goldring, Chief Executive of Oxfam GB, said: 'I deeply respect Penny's decision to accept personal responsibility.

'Like us, she is appalled at what happened and is determined to do what is best for Oxfam and the people we exist to help.

'I would like to place on record my sincere thanks for the years of dedicated service that Penny has given to Oxfam and the fight against poverty around the world.' 

Oxfam chief executive Mark Goldring (left) and chairwoman Caroline Thompson were seen leaving the Department for International Development today (pictured) after crunch talks with ministers 
Oxfam chief executive Mark Goldring (left) and chairwoman Caroline Thompson were seen leaving the Department for International Development today (pictured) after crunch talks with ministers 

Oxfam chief executive Mark Goldring (left) and chairwoman Caroline Thompson were seen leaving the Department for International Development today (pictured) after crunch talks with ministers 

Mr Goldring (pictured leaving Whitehall today) has admitted to a failure of leadership in Oxfam's Haiti relief effort 
Mr Goldring (pictured leaving Whitehall today) has admitted to a failure of leadership in Oxfam's Haiti relief effort 

Mr Goldring (pictured leaving Whitehall today) has admitted to a failure of leadership in Oxfam's Haiti relief effort 

The Oxfam chiefs were sped away from the department amid claims they should lose £32million in taxpayer funding over the scandal 
The Oxfam chiefs were sped away from the department amid claims they should lose £32million in taxpayer funding over the scandal 

The Oxfam chiefs were sped away from the department amid claims they should lose £32million in taxpayer funding over the scandal 

Former aid secretary Priti Patel (file image before her resignation as aid secretary) has accused government officials of ignoring complaints about charity staff in disaster zones
Former aid secretary Priti Patel (file image before her resignation as aid secretary) has accused government officials of ignoring complaints about charity staff in disaster zones

Former aid secretary Priti Patel (file image before her resignation as aid secretary) has accused government officials of ignoring complaints about charity staff in disaster zones

Ms Patel's claims emerged yesterday as Oxfam was shamed into a grovelling apology for its sex scandal after the Government threatened to pull the plug on funding.

The charity's chief executive admitted there had been a failure of 'moral leadership' in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct by aid workers.

Ms Mordaunt, condemned the behaviour of some Oxfam staff as a 'complete betrayal', and warned it had put the charity's £32million-a-year UK aid funding at risk.

Speaking after the meeting with the Aid Secretary today, Caroline Thomson, Oxfam chair of Trustees, said: 'Oxfam is in total agreement with the Secretary of State's further proposals. 

'We recognise that we have some way to go to persuade her that we have the right moral leadership to be fully entrusted with public money. 

'But we are committed to working with her, DFID and the Charity Commission to prove we can meet her expectations.' 

Miss Patel said she had not been aware of specific claims within Oxfam, but had raised the issue of abuse involving aid workers with Dfid while head of the department.

'There has been in my view, not just a cover-up with Oxfam, there is a culture of denial in the aid sector about the exploitation and sexual abuse that has taken place historically for decades,' she told BBC Radio 5 Live's Pienaar's Politics.

Oxfam was last night shamed into a grovelling apology for its sex scandal involving shamed director Roland Van Hauwermeiren (pictured) after a minister threatened to pull the plug on funding
Oxfam was last night shamed into a grovelling apology for its sex scandal involving shamed director Roland Van Hauwermeiren (pictured) after a minister threatened to pull the plug on funding

Oxfam was last night shamed into a grovelling apology for its sex scandal involving shamed director Roland Van Hauwermeiren (pictured) after a minister threatened to pull the plug on funding

Asked whether Whitehall was complicit in the cover-up, she said: 'Put it this way – my former department did not raise this issue with me, I raised it with them through my own investigations … I challenged them.

'This [sex abuse] is well documented … People knew in Dfid, I raised this directly with my department at the time … The UN said last year there were 120 cases involving 300 people – and that is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a culture of denial [of sexual abuse] in the aid sector.'

Oxfam is facing mounting criticism over its handling of the sex allegations, but has denied it tried to cover up the use of prostitutes by its aid workers in Haiti in 2011.

Four members of staff were dismissed and three, including the charity's country director Roland van Hauwermeiren, resigned before the end of the 2011 investigation.

The charity said claims that underage girls may have been involved were not proven.

It also emerged over the weekend that 87 Oxfam workers had been accused of sexual abuse in the past year alone. Other charities have also been caught up in the scandal. Save the Children reported 31 incidents in the past 12 months. 

The charity’s chief executive admitted there had been a failure of ‘moral leadership’ in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct by aid workers (file photo)
The charity’s chief executive admitted there had been a failure of ‘moral leadership’ in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct by aid workers (file photo)

The charity's chief executive admitted there had been a failure of 'moral leadership' in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct by aid workers (file photo)

Ten of the allegations were passed to police and civil authorities. Workers for the British Red Cross and Christian Aid were also reported. All four charities receive millions of pounds from Dfid.

Yesterday, Oxfam said it was 'shamed' by what had happened in Haiti.

Caroline Thomson, the charity's chairman of UK trustees, said: 'It is clear that such behaviour is completely outside our values and should never be tolerated.' 

Chief executive Mark Goldring added: 'I think there's no question that the people running the Haiti programme in 2011 failed in terms of moral leadership.'

Asked whether he could say for certain this 'was it' and there was 'nothing else out there', he told Channel 4 News: 'No.'

Mr Goldring added: 'We have been back through our records as thoroughly as we can and we will carry on doing that.

'What we did after 2011 was strengthen our whistleblowing lines, our complaints section, our training – that has not been enough. We have to carry on improving the commitment that we've made today.'

Last night Miss Mordaunt put all charities on notice that she will stop funding unless they fully co-operate with the authorities on abuse allegations.

She said she would be writing to all aid agencies which receive Dfid cash, ordering them to declare all abuse claims they are aware of and to confirm they have informed the relevant authorities.

The minister told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show the failure to pass on information showed an 'absolute absence of leadership'. Asked if she thought Oxfam had failed in its 'moral leadership', she replied: 'Yes, I do.'

Miss Mordaunt said she would meet executives from the charity today, adding: 'If the moral leadership at the top of the organisation is not there then we cannot have you as a partner.' She will also meet with the Charity Commission later this week.

The watchdog said it had written to Oxfam 'as a matter of urgency' for further information. It said an Oxfam report on the investigation stated there had been no allegations of abuse of beneficiaries and made no mention of any potential sex crimes involving minors.

'Our approach to this matter would have been different had the full details that have been reported been disclosed to us at the time,' it added. Miss Mordaunt said the charity had 'categorically' stated to Dfid that no harm was done and beneficiaries were not involved. 

PAUL BRACCHI: Oxfam is the charity that's betrayed its humbled High Street roots... thanks to the revelations of sleaze and sexual exploitation in earthquake-torn Haiti    

For many, Oxfam is still synonymous with kindly old ladies selling second-hand books and clothes in the charity's dusty shops up and down the country.

Leaflets and posters where they turn out tirelessly – day after day, week after week – remind us of the vital humanitarian work Oxfam carries out in conflict zones and disaster spots in every corner of the globe. 

Volunteers wearing instantly recognisable green Oxfam T-shirts and vests have become a familiar sight on TV news coverage of the plight of Rohingya refugees sheltering in Bangladesh or families trying to escape the horrors of Syria.

'People have a right to life and security, to a sustainable livelihood, to be heard, to have an identity, and to have access to basic social services,' is the noble mission statement on Oxfam's website.

For many, Oxfam is still synonymous with kindly old ladies selling second-hand books and clothes in the charity’s dusty shops up and down the country
For many, Oxfam is still synonymous with kindly old ladies selling second-hand books and clothes in the charity’s dusty shops up and down the country

For many, Oxfam is still synonymous with kindly old ladies selling second-hand books and clothes in the charity's dusty shops up and down the country

So, in the eyes of the public Oxfam enjoys an almost unrivalled reputation as a force for good; a quaint, reassuringly old-fashioned organisation, epitomised by its High Street presence.

These outlets, the only point of contact most of us have with Oxfam, have 'become the generic name for [charity] shops, in the same way that vacuum cleaners are referred to as Hoovers,' says Oxfam's chief executive Mark Goldring. There could be no better indicator of how ubiquitous Oxfam has become.

In fact, Oxfam bears little resemblance to this popular image.

Oxfam has 1,200 shops worldwide (630 in the UK), employs around 10,000 staff (plus 23,000 volunteers) and has a turnover of £415million; it is a multi-national company – a corporate behemoth – in all but name.

Nevertheless, it has managed to maintain a heartfelt place in the hearts and minds of the British public; until now.

In 2011, we now know, senior aid workers in earthquake-torn Haiti indulged in orgies with prostitutes – 'full-on Caligula orgies' described as 'young meat barbecues,' reportedly. Some of the women were allegedly younger than 16.

What a terrible betrayal of Oxfam's noble ideals – and those dedicated 'old ladies' – the revelations of sleaze and sexual exploitation now engulfing the charity represent.

The scandal – apart from anything else – sits uncomfortably with the steam of sanctimonious pronouncements emanating from the charity in recent times.

In 2011, we now know, senior aid workers in earthquake-torn Haiti indulged in orgies with prostitutes – ‘full-on Caligula orgies’ described as ‘young meat barbecues,’ reportedly
In 2011, we now know, senior aid workers in earthquake-torn Haiti indulged in orgies with prostitutes – ‘full-on Caligula orgies’ described as ‘young meat barbecues,’ reportedly

In 2011, we now know, senior aid workers in earthquake-torn Haiti indulged in orgies with prostitutes – 'full-on Caligula orgies' described as 'young meat barbecues,' reportedly

All charities, by necessity, have to occupy the moral high ground, of course. But at the peak of this metaphorical summit is Oxfam.

So rarefied is the atmosphere at the organisation's £30million British headquarters in Oxford that you could be forgiven for thinking that staff have to be issued with oxygen masks to work here.

Among its many declarations is the claim that capitalism is to blame for creating global privation because 82 per cent of money generated last year went to the richest 1 per cent of the planet's population, apparently. Only Oxfam could get away with making such politicised (and spurious) statements; charities are supposed to remain politically neutral, after all.

What would Oxfam's founding father make of it all, one wonders? It was on October 5, 1942 that a group of citizens, mainly Quakers, concerned about civilians caught up in the battles of World War Two gathered in the University Church of St Mary the Virgin in Oxford and called for blockades so food could reach people starving in Europe – particularly famine-riven Greece.

The Oxford Committee for Famine Relief (now Oxfam) was born.

A party to mark the 75th anniversary of Oxfam, attended by 500 guests, was held in Oxford town hall in October. The hall was decorated with display boards showcasing Oxfam projects over the years – 'striving for a world where it doesn't have to exist.'

Among the guests was 85-year-old Roger Baker, the charity's longest serving volunteer, who has been supporting Oxfam for 48 years. His father, Wilson Baker, a chemist, was part of the original committee which set up the first Oxfam shop in Oxford's Broad Street in 1945 (a live donkey, believe it or not, was among the early donations).

'When you join a family, you stay,' said Mr Baker.

The retired teacher said his involvement in Oxfam means 'helping the disadvantaged people of the world, allowing them to help themselves.'

By the early 1960s, the tweedy members of that first meeting – including Mr Baker Snr – would have been flabbergasted by Oxfam's expediential growth. The Beatles, no less, did a benefit concert for Oxfam in 1963

By the 1970s, Oxfam became active in Latin America and the Caribbean, and spearheaded the international campaign against apartheid in South Africa.

Oxfam has 1,200 shops worldwide (630 in the UK), employs around 10,000 staff (plus 23,000 volunteers) and has a turnover of £415million; it is a multi-national company – a corporate behemoth – in all but name
Oxfam has 1,200 shops worldwide (630 in the UK), employs around 10,000 staff (plus 23,000 volunteers) and has a turnover of £415million; it is a multi-national company – a corporate behemoth – in all but name

Oxfam has 1,200 shops worldwide (630 in the UK), employs around 10,000 staff (plus 23,000 volunteers) and has a turnover of £415million; it is a multi-national company – a corporate behemoth – in all but name

In the 90s, Oxfam sent the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – on real horses – over Westminster Bridge to protect the consequences of cutting aid to developing countries. In 2010, a group of pregnant women recreated Charles Ebbet's iconic view of New York construction workers – 'lunch atop a skyscraper' – to highlight the dangers of childbirth in the developing world.

And last year, Oxfam turned Trafalgar Square into a 'tropical tax haven' with palm trees, a sandy beach and businessmen in a call to end tax dodging that 'robs poor countries.'

'Our work providing life-saving aid and standing up for the rights of the world's poorest people would simply not be possible without the compassion and support of the British public,' said boss Mr Goldring.

Mr Goldring's current salary is £125,248 – less than the bosses of other charities – but not an inconsiderable sum nonetheless.

Oxfam, incidentally, receives £300million a year from public donations and British government funds – and by implication taxpayers – including the kind of businesses Oxfam has gone out of its way to criticise when it blamed the ills of the world on capitalism. 

How, embarrassingly ironic, that Oxfam now finds itself at the centre of a scandal that in days gone by would have made lurid front page headline for the News of the World.

Yet, the scandal goes beyond Haiti. Official figures collated by charities show that Oxfam reported 87 incidents of sexual harassment last year. Of those, 53 were referred to the police or other statutory authorities. A total of 20 staff or volunteers were dismissed.

The statistics raise troubling questions about regulation in the beleaguered charity sector already tarnished by allegations of hard-sell tactics.

Undercover reporters working for the Mail and its sister paper, The Mail on Sunday, revealed in 2015 how staff at a call centre raising funds for Oxfam employed unscrupulous tactics to squeeze cash from the elderly (in one case a 98-year-old) and cancer sufferers. New recruits were told to ignore the 'excuses' of potential donors pleading poverty and any requests to stop calling. Oxfam was later found to have breached the industry code following a six-month inquiry by the Fundraising Standards Board.

Could there be a more distasteful contrast to the old ladies and other volunteers who work in Oxfam's network of shops from Brighton to Blackpool?

There is an old saying which Mr Goldring and his PR team will no doubt be pondering today in the aftermath of the latest scandal: That it takes a lifetime to build a good reputation and only minutes to destroy it. 

 


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