Oxfam has appointed Zainab Bangura, a former Under-Secretary General of the United Nations, and Katherine Sierra, a former Vice-President of the World Bank, to co-chair an independent commission to review its culture and safeguarding system.
The setting up of an independent commission is one part of the action plan Oxfam announced to minimise the risk of sexual abuse and root it out wherever it occurs. The international agency today also announced additional progress on several other fronts.
The commission has been formed in response to concerns about the way Oxfam responded to incidents of sexual misconduct by its staff in countries including Chad and Haiti in 2006 and 2011 respectively.
Both co-chairs bring deep experience of safeguarding issues to the commission, with Ms Bangura having served until recently as the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, and Ms Sierra having co-led the World Bank’s Global Gender-Based Violence Task Force.
They will lead an independent group of international experts from the realms of business, government and civil society. The commission will look into all aspects of Oxfam’s culture, policies and practices relating to the safeguarding of staff, volunteers and the communities it supports to escape poverty and recover from humanitarian crises. Its findings and recommendations will be made public within 12 months.
Katherine Sierra said: “I have undertaken to help lead this independent commission because it is essential to understand what went wrong in the past, whether or not actions taken by Oxfam since 2011 have been effective in reducing the risk of such incidents, and what more they can do now to minimise the chance of such things happening again and to ensure that any incidents that do occur are responded to appropriately, including in terms of the support provided to victims and survivors. I look forward to working with my fellow commissioners to identify the challenging and crucial lessons, both for Oxfam and the wider humanitarian and development sectors.”
Zainab Bangura said: “I have long admired the work of Oxfam and other aid agencies whose staff often risk their lives to help others in terribly difficult situations. That’s why so many of us were deeply concerned to see the reports of what some former Oxfam staff did in Haiti. We will ensure that we put the survivors and victims of abuse at the heart of our enquiries as we work to understand how the aid sector can become a safer place for all.”
Oxfam announced today that it has introduced a set of new standards for staff references to help prevent former employees found guilty of gross misconduct from finding work in the sector. The new measures, which will remain under constant review, include a central point of contact for references anywhere in the world and accredited referees in every Oxfam organisation. References will only be issued by one of these accredited referees in order to prevent former employees falsifying references or asking friends to provide them. An agreed standard on the content of references will ensure that cases of gross misconduct, including sexual abuse, are spelt out.
Oxfam GB this week launched an external, independent whistleblowing hotline and standardised the way safeguarding cases are recorded globally to allow better reporting. This builds on the whistleblowing helpline put in place after 2011. Additional safeguarding staff are being recruited and the annual budget in this area has been tripled to £720,000.
Mark Goldring, Chief Executive of Oxfam GB, said: “Preventing and tackling sexual abuse is as important to me as saving lives when disasters hit. We’ve got better at it since 2011, but we know there’s a lot more we can and must do – the commission will help us do that.
“Today’s announcement is about turning words into actions and delivering on our commitment to protect staff, volunteers and the people we help around the world from those who do not share our values.
“From today, any employee found guilty of gross misconduct will find it much harder to hold a similar position in the future. The additional resources and external whistleblowing line will make it easier for allegations to be reported and acted upon swiftly.”
Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam’s Executive Director, said: “We are grateful to the eminent women and men who have agreed to serve on this independent commission. Oxfam recognise that the Commission’s independence must be paramount in order to provide transparency and accountability to our partners, the public, and above all to the survivors of abuse. We must now ensure Oxfam and our sector is doing everything we can to be a place of safety and dignity for all women and men.
Oxfam GB press office