Progress on Oxfam’s commitment to stamping out sexual harassment and abuse

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Photo: Blue Blazer Photos

How we are delivering against our 10-point action plan to improve our safeguarding practices and policies and help rebuild our culture

I am writing to update you on Oxfam’s progress toward the safeguarding commitments we made earlier this year. In February, there was reporting of sexual misconduct by Oxfam Great Britain staff in Haiti in 2011 and Chad in 2006. The actions of those staff members violated our values and the trust placed in us by the communities we serve. Oxfam is committed to learning from our mistakes and doing everything in our power to protect the people we serve and our staff.

When we at Oxfam talk about the injustice of poverty and inequality, we know that gender and power are deeply embedded in those issues. Understanding that and working toward tackling those power imbalances is core to our work and mission. But we also know that our workplace must mirror the values we champion on the front lines of our work. And that means looking at gender and power imbalances in our own work and across our sector. Oxfam is deeply committed to working internally, but also collaboratively with our colleagues in the aid sector, as well as with our donors, and our partners, as we believe this will be only path to real, lasting change.

That’s why on February 16, 2018, Oxfam’s board of international directors agreed on a wide-reaching 10-point action plan to strengthen Oxfam’s safeguarding policies and practices, and transform our organizational culture. With these measures, we will do our best to stamp out sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment from all parts of our confederation; to protect those we work with; and to ensure justice for survivors of abuse.

While we had already advanced significantly from 2011, we promised that we would make the safety of those we serve, as well as our staff, our priority by putting more resources into improving our systems and processes and building and institutionalizing a values-driven culture within Oxfam. To date, we have invested more than $2.6 million in safeguarding across Oxfam globally. Our goal is to ensure that no one faces sexism, discrimination, or abuse, that everyone feels safe speaking out, and everyone is clear on what behavior is acceptable or not. This requires ensuring that Oxfam as an organization reaffirms our commitment to gender equality, prevents abuses of power, and does not tolerate sexual harassment, abuse, or exploitation.

Since February, we have revised our code of conduct, which is now being rolled out across the confederation. We have implemented a mandatory staff training in gender justice and sexual harassment. And we have begun to hold “Living Our Values Everyday” recurring staff conversations about how we make our stated values manifest in how we treat each other and our partners and community members in the US and other countries where we work. This is a seminal moment for our society, our sector, and for Oxfam. It’s just the start for us as we embark on a long-term process to fully integrate gender justice into our workplace culture.

Additionally, in March we launched an international independent commission to examine past and current cases of sexual misconduct and to review our policies, practices and our culture. The commission is co-chaired by Zainab Bangura, a former United Nations Under Secretary General, and Katherine Sierra, a former vice president of the World Bank. Their first report is due in early fall of 2018, and a full report will be published by next the spring of 2019. Both reports will be available to the public.

We have also trained 119 staff as safeguarding investigators and revamped our whistle-blowing systems—which Oxfam America has had in place since 2010—to ensure there are reporting lines in five languages to serve Oxfam staff around the world, and that we are encouraging staff to use these resources to raise complaints and concerns. And here at Oxfam America, we have created two roles: a Gender Advisor for our DC office and a Senior Safeguarding Specialist, and have upgraded a position to Vice President of People, Culture, and Global Human Resources, with oversight over our organizational culture.

Another measure in the works in an Oxfam-wide database to register and report on all cases so the entire Oxfam confederation can be coordinated. This database will provide the information for annual reporting twice a year, which Oxfam will release starting in October of 2018. Concurrently, we have appointed staff to formally authorize references in an effort to prevent forged, dishonest, or unreliable references.

We are embracing the opportunity to learn and share from our organizational failings and to work collaboratively with colleagues within the aid sector to prevent sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment. We have identified a number of areas where real changes can only be made together, particularly the movement of staff between agencies and our shared working space within communities and cross-sector agreement on baseline commitments regarding safeguarding policies.

Along those lines, I am serving as a co-champion and co-lead of the CEO Task Force on Prevention of Sexual Abuse, Exploitation, and Harassment by and of NGO Staff, at InterAction, the association of US-based internationally oriented NGOs. I’m proud that the task force produced the InterAction CEO pledge on Preventing Sexual Abuse, Exploitation and Harassment, which has signatures from 120 CEOs.

These are just preliminary steps among many others, and there is so much more to be done. We are committed to becoming a stronger, more transparent and accountable Oxfam that can deliver on our mission to tackle the root causes of poverty and create lasting change. We value your partnership. Together, we can build the best version of Oxfam.

Read the 10-point action plan

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