British charity Oxfam announced that it will set up a commission to investigate allegations of exploitation by its staff.
In early February, news reports revealed that during a humanitarian aid mission in Haiti in 2011, Roland van Hauwermeiren, Oxfam’s country director, reportedly hired prostitutes and brought them to his company-financed villa.
Despite confessing that during the mission he had “intimate relations” with a woman, Van Hauwermeiren, who left the charity in 2011 amid a sexual misconduct inquiry, vehemently denied any interactions with prostitutes.
Oxfam International’s executive director, Winnie Byanyima, swiftly issued her response, claiming that justice would be served to all those found responsible for executing such allegations.
In an interview with BBC, Ms. Byanyima, who only learned about the accusations following news reports in mid-February, pleaded for the world to forgive Oxfam.
Ms. Byanyima, the most senior Oxfam executive as of yet to speak on the issue, further added that she was “here for all the women who have been abused,” and that although the organization was hurt by the controversy, “there is no way this organization can die.”
She also added that despite her inability to guarantee whether or not the organization currently employed sex offenders, Oxfam would begin to “build a new culture that doesn’t tolerate that behavior.”
With approximately 10,000 staff working in over 90 countries, Oxfam has announced a tentative set of reforms to address the issue. The projected reforms will pursue several avenues through which the charity will address the controversy and safeguard against future potential instances of sexual misconduct. Reforms will include the establishment of an independent commission to look into the organization’s current culture while looking at past and present allegations of sexual exploitation, securing further funding for the charity’s safeguarding department, and the creation of a database to vet against potential sex offenders who might be trying to falsify their identities to get a position in the organization.
Numerous individuals have leveled criticism at Oxfam over the controversy, including Haitian President Jovenel Moise, who condemned Oxfam’s actions as an “extremely serious violation of human dignity.” Furthermore, Britain’s International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt has threatened to cut government funding for the charity, which was valued at nearly $45 million last year. Many celebrity Goodwill ambassadors for the institution have reportedly dropped their support for the organization, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Additionally, the British Charity Commission, an independent organization which regulates registered charities in England and Wales, has announced its intentions to conduct a full inquiry into Oxfam amid concerns that it might not have fully disclosed all details about the scandal.
As an internationally-renowned charity, Oxfam will undoubtedly take major steps to address the issue it finds itself in. It remains unclear whether the international community will forgive Oxfam through its handling of this scandal.