Oxfam Scandal: The Sexual Misconduct Allegations That Tarnished One Of The UK's Leading Charities

Here's the background on the sexual misconduct allegations which date back to 2006.

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Minnie Driver has become the first celebrity ambassador to stand down from her role with the charity Oxfam, after a number of sexual misconduct allegations against former aid workers came to light.

The actress said she was 'devastated' by the reports concerning an organisation she has been raising awareness for since she was nine-years-old.

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The allegations against the global anti-poverty charity date back to 2006 and involve claims that aid workers bought sex from vulnerable women in the countries they were sent to help rebuild.

Here's the background on the developing scandal.

What are the allegations?

The allegations date back to the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake on the Caribbean island of Haiti which left an estimated 220,000 people dead, 300,000 injured and 1.5 million people homeless. At the time, Haiti was the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and the DEC said 86 per cent of people in the capital, Port au Prince, lived in 'slum conditions'.

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On Friday, The Times published an investigation revealing that in 2011, Oxfam ordered an investigation into claims that some of the aid workers sent to Haiti to help with the post-earthquake relief efforts used sex workers on charity property in the country.

A neighbourhood in Port-au-Prince, Haiti after the earthquake in 2010

The shocking allegations make for grim reading and include descriptions that a group of male aid workers lived in a guesthouse rented by Oxfam that they called 'the whorehouse':

'They were throwing big parties with prostitutes. These girls were wearing Oxfam T-shirts, running around half-naked, it was like a full-on Caligula orgy. It was unbelievable. It was crazy.'

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There were further claims that some of the sex workers were between 14 and 16 years old and therefore below the age of consent. Oxfam said these claims were investigated but 'not proven'.

Other allegations of bullying, intimidation, harassment and the use of 'pornographic and illegal material' on work computers have also been made.

The newspaper reports that Oxfam was made aware of these claims by a whistleblower in 2011 and investigated them at this time. However, the charity 'managed until now to keep its findings and the details of the case secret from the public,' the report notes. (Oxfam have since denied a cover up and say they did announce that a small number of staff had been 'involved in a number of instances of misconduct').

Six men, and the country director, Roland van Hauwermeiren, left the charity as a result of the 2011 investigation (he admitted having prostitutes visit his residence, according to the investigation report).

On Monday, the Haitian president, Jovenel Moise, called the allegations a 'violation of basic human decency'.

What happened in Chad?

Since the first reports, there have now been allegations published concerning the behaviour of Oxfam staff in the African country of Chad, a country which has more than 60 per cent of the population below the international poverty line, say UNICEF, and a life expectancy of 52 years old (according to the World Bank).

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On Sunday, The Observer published claims from a former staffer who said that, women, who were believed to be sex workers, would be invited for parties at the Oxfam team house. The staffer also said a senior member of staff in the country had been fired over his behaviour in 2006.

Are there more allegations to come?

On Monday, Oxfam's former global head of safeguarding (from 2012-2015) Helen Evans, said she was aware of allegations of rape, harassment and sex by aid workers, which she says she tried to escalate to the senior leadership team. She wrote in a statement shared on Twitter that 'Haiti wasn't an isolated incident'.

She told Channel 4 News that on one single day there were three separate allegations, including a woman who was receiving aid being coerced to have sex by an aid worker, a woman coerced to have sex in exchange for aid and a member of staff who had been struck off for sexual abuse and hadn't disclosed it.

She also claimed she had approached the charity commission with these matters and further concerns about young volunteers in shops in the UK being unprotected due to a failure in carrying out criminal DBS checks .

In response, Oxfam's chief executive apologised for not acting fast enough to Helen's concerns. He has also said that there are more robust measures in place.

How has Oxfam responded?

Following The Times' story, Oxfam said the behaviour of some of their staff members in Haiti in 2011 was 'totally unacceptable' and 'contrary to [the] values and high standards we expect of our staff'.

They denied covering up the scandal and confirmed an internal investigation was launched at the time, saying four staff members were dismissed as a result and three, including the country director, resigned before the investigation was finished. The investigation led to the creation of a dedicated safeguarding team and confidential whistleblowing hotline.

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As for the allegations in Chad, the charity told The Observer they couldn't confirm claims a staff member had been dismissed. Oxfam said their employees lived under a strict curfew because of security concerns and that some had raised the issue of prostitutes with the head of the charity in Chad at the time. (This was van Hauwermeiren - later the country director in Haiti, who was forced to quit his position over allegations involving him).

Since the story has become public, Oxfam have been put under intense scrutiny. On Monday, the charity's deputy chief executive, Penny Lawrence - who was Oxfam programme director at the time - resigned saying she took 'full responsibility' and was 'ashamed' this had happened on her watch.

Is the government involved?

Yes. Immediately after the report was published, the government shared plans to review its work with Oxfam, saying the organisation had 'serious questions' to answer.

On Monday, the International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt, issued a statement saying: '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.'

Mordaunt also met with the chief executive and chair of trustees from Oxfam and said she was reassured the charity are cooperating with authorities in Haiti. She asked them to provide details of the men involved to the governments of their own country (as none of the men were British, though they were hired by Oxfam GB).

Later, Mordaunt confirmed she had issued a letter to all UK charities working overseas 'to demand they step up and do more' to make sure vulnerable people in the countries these charities work are protected. She has also created a new unit to review safeguarding 'across all parts of the aid sector to ensure everything is being done to protect people from harm, including sexual exploitation and abuse'.

What's next for Oxfam?

The charity commission has also opened an inquiry into Oxfam saying they 'have concerns that Oxfam may not have fully and frankly disclosed material details about the allegations at the time in 2011'. The organisation is concerned over their handling of the incidents since and the impact on public trust, it said.

In a letter to supporters, the chief executive of Oxfam, Mark Goldring, said the charity will establish a stronger whistleblowing line, strengthen their vetting of staff in the recruitment process and 'revisit improvements already made and learn additional lessons from Haiti 2011'.

As for how badly Oxfam has been affected, perhaps it is too soon to tell.

There have been various reports suggesting some regular donors are put off giving money to the organisation for now while corporate partners like Heathrow airport and the Co-Operative bank have said they are in conversations with Oxfam. According to the BBC, more than 1,000 people cancelled their direct debits to Oxfam over the weekend, since the scandal emerged.

However, an Oxfam spokesperson also told the corporation they received 78 single gift donations on Tuesday, the highest number since the year began.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.

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