Oxfam CEO: It's not like we killed babies

Oxfam's chief executive apologised on Tuesday for saying a wave of condemnation over sex abuse by its staff was disproportionate as it had not "murdered babies in their cots" after a scandal that has prompted new reports of abuse.
Oxfam has been mired in scandal since revelations a week ago that staff used prostitutes while working in Haiti after a 2010 earthquake.
Oxfam has been mired in scandal since revelations a week ago that staff used prostitutes while working in Haiti after a 2010 earthquake.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Scale of attacks over sex scandal out of proportion, says charity head

LONDON • The head of Oxfam has hit back at criticism over a prostitution scandal that he said was "out of proportion", as the British charity agreed not to bid for more government funds until it cleans up its act.

Chief executive Mark Goldring has repeatedly apologised for failings in the way the charity dealt with claims of sexual misconduct by its aid staff, but said some people refused to listen to explanations.

"The intensity and the ferocity of the attack makes you wonder, what did we do?" he said in an interview with The Guardian newspaper last Friday.

"We murdered babies in their cots? Certainly, the scale and the intensity of the attacks feels out of proportion to the level of culpability. I struggle to understand it."

He suggested that some critics were motivated in part by opposition to taxpayer-funded aid - Oxfam received nearly £32 million (S$59 million) from the British government last year.

Earlier, the charity unveiled an action plan to tackle sexual harassment and abuse, and agreed not to bid for any more state funds until reforms were in place.

"Oxfam has agreed to withdraw from bidding for any new UK government funding until the Department for International Development is satisfied that they can meet the high standards we expect of our partners," aid minister Penny Mordaunt said.

She said all the government's charitable partners had been asked to give assurances on their safeguarding and reporting practices by Feb 26.

Oxfam has been mired in scandal since revelations a week ago that staff used prostitutes while working in Haiti following a devastating 2010 earthquake. There have since been claims made about aid workers in Chad, Bangladesh, Nepal and the Philippines, and three Oxfam global ambassadors, including South Africa's Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have quit their roles.

Deputy chief executive Penny Lawrence resigned over the Haiti affair last week, and last Friday Oxfam International's executive director, Ms Winnie Byanyima, told the BBC that the Haiti scandal will "shame us for years, and rightly so".

Ministers have demanded that Oxfam produce a plan on how to deal with any forthcoming allegations, that it report any staff members involved in the Haiti scandal and that it fully cooperate with the Haitian authorities.

The aid group said it would create an independent commission with the power to access records and interview staff, and impose stricter controls on employees. It will also double the number of staff engaged in safeguarding while also increasing investment in gender training.

Oxfam fired four staff members for gross misconduct and allowed three others to resign following an internal inquiry into what happened in Haiti in 2011.

But it admitted on Thursday that it had rehired one of those sacked just months later.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 18, 2018, with the headline 'Oxfam CEO: It's not like we killed babies'. Print Edition | Subscribe