UPDATE 28 JUNE 2019:
Since the publication of the Independent Commission’s report and issuing of this press release, Oxfam’s safeguarding team has conducted a review of background documents which had been passed to us during the final part of the Commission’s work.
This background material, which included testimony from confidential and anonymised focus groups conducted by Proteknon researchers for the Commission, has raised potential safeguarding issues of direct concern to Oxfam which we will now investigate. This is in addition to our continuing response to broader concerns arising from the Commission’s work, which it had raised directly with us at an earlier stage of its work.
We were extremely concerned to learn of this new information and are in contact with former members and staff of the Independent Commission to establish more detail. We will provide full support to anyone who wishes to make a formal complaint, and will do all we can to help identify any alleged perpetrators and hold them to account. We will also offer support to survivors who come forward.
Where there is evidence of an offence, we will, with the consent of the survivor, refer evidence to the appropriate authorities. We have formally notified the Charity Commission and relevant donors and will keep them updated.
Oxfam is committed to tackling abuse and we are grateful to anyone with the courage to come forward.
We update once every six months on the outcome of completed cases as part of our safeguarding 10-point plan update.
STATEMENT 12 JUNE 2019
Oxfam today welcomed the final report of the Independent Commission on Sexual Misconduct, Accountability and Culture Change.
Responding to the Independent Commission report Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam International Executive Director, said: “We set up the Independent Commission to tell us hard truths about our organisation, and to be clear about where and how we can improve. Oxfam accepts the report’s findings and we welcome its recommendations.”
Responding to the Commission’s findings of shocking levels of sexual abuse in two refugee camps, Byanyima said: “While the Commission did not refer any specific new allegations of sexual abuse to Oxfam about our staff, that doesn’t lessen our concern or our duty to act.
“Tragically we have not done enough in the past to ensure that the communities we work with are protected and able to live their lives with dignity. The Commission has urged our sector to redouble its commitment in this area, and we are ready to play our part.”
Responding to criticism of Oxfam’s safeguarding failures, Byanyima said: “I want to humbly apologise to all of the staff and community members who have been harmed by Oxfam, its people, its leaders, its culture. We are moving quickly in changing our workplace culture and will continue to implement all the recommendations of the Commission.
“I thank the Commission for recognising and valuing the important changes we have already made. They have rightly said we must now be courageous in delivering further reform. I could not agree more.
“We will act on every case coming to our attention and take action against abuse wherever it occurs.
“The Commission says that Oxfam has taken an important step in being publicly committed to change and transparent in its work. I’m heartened that it says we have the potential to become a voice of leadership in wider sector reform. But it has given a strong warning that we should not under-estimate the task ahead of us – and I can assure everyone, we absolutely do not.”
Additional actions that Oxfam is planning include:
- Mobilising a new €550,000 “Global Integrity Fund” to help strengthen safeguarding work of local civil society organisations
- Boosting its own safeguarding capacity and resources in the most fragile and challenging environments in which it operates
- Establishing two new global senior leadership roles of Chief Ethics Officer and Culture Lead
Responding to serious staff issues including a work culture that in some contexts can be unsupportive and even toxic, with some staff complaining of bullying, racism and sexism, Byanyima said: “As an African woman, I encounter both sexism and racism in many places I go. I am pained and angered that some colleagues have done so within our organisation. We are forcefully challenging such unacceptable behaviours. I am determined to ensure that Oxfam’s internal culture lives up to the values we espouse in our work around the world.”
On the report’s finding that Oxfam’s 10,000 staff are its greatest asset and are “eager to contribute to building a safer Oxfam,” Byanyima added: “I am constantly humbled by thesheerdedicationof my colleagues, whose tireless work to combat global poverty and inequality is recognised in the report. As the Commission says, our staff are passionate about and loyal to Oxfam’s values-they want to see Oxfam change and grow. We owe it to them to deliver, and they should be part of this process.”
For more information please contact the Oxfam GB press office: firstname.lastname@example.org/ 01865 472498
Notes to editors:
Oxfam set up the Independent Commission in February 2018 and gave it a full mandate – independently and publicly – to investigate its work and highlight what more Oxfam needed to do. The Commission was joined by eminent human rights leaders, including a former Women’s Minister in Haiti and a global expert on Sexual Violence in Conflict. https://independentcommission.org/
Oxfam’s 10-point plan to transform its working culture and improve its collective systems of safeguarding policies and practices https://www.oxfam.org/en/oxfams-commitment-stamping-out-sexual-harassment-and-abuse
The Independent Commission conducted research into local communities’ experiences in three countries where multiple international and local agencies were working on major humanitarian responses. Where the Commission could identify information about a specific agency or individual, it was able to alert that agency to investigate.
The Commission recognises the progress that has been made by Oxfam to strengthen its approach to safeguarding and the organisation’s “tremendous will, energy, and commitment to reform”.
Since February 2018, the Commission notes that Oxfam has taken important steps, including but not limited to new confederation-wide prevention of sexual misconduct and child protection policies, standard operating procedures for reporting misconduct and a single Oxfam-wide safeguarding network.
The report notes that Oxfam also recently developed its first survivor support guidelines and is working together with partners to build their capacity to address and prevent misconduct. These changes form part of the improvements that Oxfam has been making under its 10-point action plan to transform its working culture and strengthen its global safeguarding systems.