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Preventing sexual abuse
The prevention of sexual abuse and harassment—of and by Oxfam staff—is critically important for our organization.
Recent reports on sexual misconduct cases in Haiti have led Oxfam to take a hard look at our past mistakes. We are committed to building a culture that does not tolerate abuse.
What happened in Haiti
In 2011, Oxfam Great Britain staff in Haiti were accused of sexual exploitation and abuse. After an investigation by Oxfam later that year, four staff members were fired and three were allowed to resign, including the country director. As part of the investigation, Oxfam found that the country director had been involved in allegations of similar abuse in Chad in 2006. He took full responsibility for the misconduct that took place under his management.
The government of Haiti has suspended Oxfam Great Britain's operations while they conduct their own investigation. Oxfam has apologized to the Haitian government and people for the actions of our former staff.
Today, Oxfam has zero tolerance for abuse of people in any form and we offer our support to victims of these egregious violations of our principles and values.
Oxfam is taking significant steps to address the underlying problems that allowed the events in Haiti to happen. These include:
Establishing a high-level independent commission to review any cases of sexual misconduct and abuse of power: The commission is led by women’s rights experts who are investigating any past or present cases of sexual abuse and harassment at Oxfam. It will share recommendations on what Oxfam and the wider aid sector can do to create a culture of zero tolerance for any kind of sexual harassment, abuse, or exploitation. The commission will publish its findings so the public can read its recommendations.
Putting substantially more resources into keeping people safe: Oxfam is doubling the number of staff dedicated to preventing abuse and sexual misconduct and tripling the financial resources devoted to this work. This includes improvements to our system that allows people to report abuse that can be easily used by the communities we serve, and by staff and volunteers.
Zainab Bangura, a former under-secretary general of the United Nations, and Katherine Sierra, a former vice president of the World Bank, will co-chair an Independent Commission on Sexual Misconduct, Accountability, and Culture Change.
We are determined to remain strong and uphold the values that have long made Oxfam a force for good in the world.
What is Oxfam America’s role in preventing sexual abuse?
Oxfam America is part of the Oxfam confederation, which is made up of more than 20 affiliate organizations. While Oxfam’s commitment to preventing sexual abuse is confederation-wide, Oxfam America President and CEO Abby Maxman is a leader in this work within Oxfam and the aid sector. She is the co-chair of Oxfam International’s Safeguarding Task Force, alongside Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam International’s executive director. Abby is also co-leading the InterAction CEO Task Team on Sexual Harassment and Abuse, which convenes US-based aid organizations.
How do people safely report cases of misconduct?
Oxfam America’s safeguarding measures include a confidential whistleblowing mechanism, which is mediated by a third-party service provider called Navex Global (known internally as EthicsPoint). This whistleblowing system has been in place within Oxfam America since 2010. This allows staff, volunteers, beneficiaries, donors, and others to confidentially report any cases of misconduct, financial embezzlement, violation of policy, or any other practice inconsistent with Oxfam values. People can make complaints online, via phone, or by mail in English, Spanish, or French. The information on how to access this service is publicly available on our website and posted in all country offices Oxfam America oversees.
Every complaint is promptly investigated by Oxfam America’s Human Resources department and other departments as needed. Depending on the nature of the case, we may hire independent external investigators.
What policies does Oxfam have in place to protect people from sexual harassment and abuse?
Since 2010, Oxfam America has instituted policies for harassment complaints, harassment prevention, prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse, and sexual harassment. These have since been updated annually. In 2011 we added a policy on child protection and prevention of bullying and harassment. These policies are to set the rules of behavior, and staff are obliged to abide by these policies. Oxfam America’s Human Resources department oversees its safeguarding measures. In 2018, Oxfam America reviewed all its policies to assure that they reflect recent changes in context and assure the safety, due process, and protection of our staff, our partners, our beneficiaries, and those who we exist to serve.