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Oxfam asks women's rights leaders to carry out independent review

By Oxfam

An independent commission will review Oxfam’s practices and culture, including its handling of past cases of sexual misconduct.

Oxfam has asked women’s rights leaders to form an independent commission to carry out a wide-ranging review of Oxfam’s practices and culture, including its handling of past cases of sexual misconduct. This work is part of our comprehensive plan to strengthen safeguarding systems across the organization and stamp out abuse. 

“I’ve agreed to a plan of action with Oxfam’s board of international directors, which will see us double the number of people who work on safeguarding the people we serve,” said Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima. “We’re also asking respected women’s rights experts to lead an independent commission which will take a long, hard look at our operations and tell us what we need to change about our culture and practices. And we’re setting up a new database of people authorized to give references.” 

Specifically, the package of measures includes: 

  • A new, independent High-Level Commission on Sexual Misconduct, Accountability, and Culture Change, comprised of leading women’s rights experts, which will be able to access Oxfam records and interview staff, partners and communities it supports around the world. 
  • The immediate creation of a new global database of accredited referees—designed to end the use of forged, dishonest, or unreliable references by past or current Oxfam staff. Oxfam will not be issuing any references until this is in place.
  •  An immediate injection of money and resources into Oxfam’s safeguarding processes, with the number of people working in safeguarding more than doubling over the coming weeks and annual funding more than tripled to just over $1 million. 
  • A commitment to improve the culture within Oxfam to ensure that no one faces sexism, discrimination, or abuse, that everyone, especially women, feels safe to speak out, and everyone is clear on what behavior is acceptable or not.

Oxfam will also publish its 2011 internal investigation into staff involved in sexual and other misconduct in Haiti as soon as possible, after taking steps necessary to protect the identity of innocent witnesses. The names of the men involved have already been shared with the authorities in Haiti. 

“What happened in Haiti and afterwards is a stain on Oxfam that will shame us for years, and rightly so,” said Byanyima. “In my language, ‘Okuruga ahamutima gwangye, mutusaasire.’ It means, ‘From the bottom of my heart I am asking for forgiveness.’” 

The High-Level Commission will operate at arms-length from Oxfam and determine its own scope and terms of reference. Oxfam will provide the resources it needs to do its job effectively, across the confederation, including full access to records, staff, and partners and communities supported by the organization. As part of the Commission's work, it will create an historical record about cases of sexual misconduct and abuse of power that is as complete as possible, which will be made publicly available. 

Byanyima continued: “Right now I have two utmost priorities for Oxfam: continuing to provide support to the millions of vulnerable people we work with around the world, and learning vital lessons from our past mistakes to make sure such abuse and exploitation does not happen again. 

“We are absolutely committed to ensuring justice for survivors of abuse, and making sure all those we work with, as well as our staff and volunteers, are protected from any such abuse now and in the future. 

“We also know we cannot solve these problems on our own. We need to work with governments, regulators, women’s rights organisations and others in the sector to implement urgent reforms. We need to make sure anyone guilty of such gross misconduct is not able to move between different organisations, exposing more vulnerable people to risk.” 

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