Portrait of Iffat, Oxfam aid worker
Portrait of Iffat, Oxfam aid worker

Keeping people safe

From constantly improving safeguarding policies, to installing solar lights that make refugee camps more secure, keeping people safe is a vital part of our work worldwide.

In recent years, Oxfam has made substantial changes to the way that we approach safeguarding. But we recognise that there is so much more that we need to do, and we are committed to continually learning in order to make Oxfam a safer place for all.

Safeguarding in action

Oxfam has recently dismissed some members of staff in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as a result of an investigation into abuses of power

You can find out more in our press release

We apologise to everyone who has been hurt by these abuses of power and hope the action we have taken demonstrates our resolve to tackle all forms of misconduct.

We are committed to transparency and will continue to report regularly on our progress. Every six months, we publish a report on all safeguarding cases we have completed across the Oxfam confederation.

How we are keeping people safe

We have continued to strengthen our approach to safeguarding by increasing the number of safeguarding specialist staff. We now have dedicated safeguarding focal points in every country where Oxfam is present, who work with staff and communities. We have been adapting to Covid-19 too - creating online safeguarding training tools to ensure that staff, volunteers, and partners are provided with effective support and training during this period.

But we won't stop there, we recognise that there is so much more to do.

We believe that only by being open and transparent about the problem can we tackle it – no organisation can ever say it is free from the risk of abuse and harassment, but we will continue to be accountable in how we manage these risks and respond swiftly when incidents do occur; striving to provide survivors with the right support at every stage.

We know that living our values is every bit as important as what we achieve, and we must not lose sight of that.

Explore the sections below to see what we are doing differently

Ensuring survivors can report abuse in confidence – and that they get the support they need – is paramount. We want survivors, past and present, to continue to come forward and report allegations and we know this can be painful and traumatic. We’ve endeavoured to make the process more accessible and to be survivor-centred in our approach and will continue to seek improvements.

Our independent and confidential whistleblowing hotline operates globally and in five languages.

Specialist safeguarding staff are also working on the ground where they are most needed – for example, we have two safeguarding specialist humanitarian support personnel who, when travel is not restricted, are deployed into countries to provide additional safeguarding support. We also have at least one dedicated safeguarding focal point in place in every country where Oxfam works.

We have established clear procedures to ensure a more consistent, survivor-centred approach to respond to cases, demystifying the reporting process and building trust. These procedures also include doing all we can to protect the confidentiality and safety of survivors and whistle-blowers as well as providing medical, health, social, emotional and other forms of support for survivors.

We also worked with a Survivor Reference Group, who advised Oxfam International’s Independent Commission, to help us learn and improve what we do. Oxfam GB has since created a survivor centred policy and completed a study of reparations for survivors.

We have improved our understanding and management of the risks posed by our work, in order to ensure that all those affected by our humanitarian and development programmes can participate more safely. The approach, known as Safe Programming, includes training and toolkits for staff and partners as well as conducting research within communities so that we are more accountable.

Despite progress, we have identified gaps in our understanding that we must continue to proactively address - Over the last year Oxfam has conducted research in three countries (Ghana, Iraq and Myanmar) to deepen our understanding of the common issues and barriers that prevent people speaking out. This has helped us to understand how we can further improve our approach to keeping people safe.

The coronavirus pandemic has necessitated an urgent review of our existing plans. The risks related to sexual exploitation and abuse are heightened in the face of stress, fear, economic uncertainty, and chaotic environments. At the same time, the barriers to reporting and challenges have also increased. Oxfam is acting fast to adapt to this new context. In response to Covid-19 restrictions, we created online safeguarding training tools to ensure that staff, volunteers, and partners are provided with effective support and training during this period.

We helped establish a Global Safeguarding Shared Service with all Oxfam affiliates - networking safeguarding specialists from across the Oxfam confederation. We have introduced a new electronic record-keeping system for all cases. This secure central database is used by all Oxfam affiliates to build information and evidence of potential crimes. We’re also working together to ensure everyone follows the same procedures.

Our policies in reporting potential crimes to police and local authorities are clearer and have been developed with guidance from survivors.

We are working with the wider aid sector to stop perpetrators from moving on unchecked to other roles and organisations. Oxfam is leading work with other agencies to better share information about offenders. Here at Oxfam GB, we have implemented a new, central referencing system, so that only approved managers can provide job references for people leaving the organisation.

We know that tackling abuse and exploitation in our programmes is not enough. We must live our values throughout the organisation by examining our own attitudes and behaviours and by changing power structures to prevent the abuse of power which is often at the heart of sexual exploitation and abuse cases.

As part of our commitment to improve our culture and ensure that all staff understand and share our values, our recruitment processes and interviews now include mandatory questions on values, safeguarding and feminist principles. We have also introduced initiatives to increase awareness and understanding amongst staff of how to challenge negative behaviours and misconduct, including concerns of bullying and harassment.

Safeguarding training is mandatory for Oxfam GB's 10,000 staff around the world, and all staff and volunteers sign a code of conduct when starting work with us.

In all our shops across the UK, enhanced DBS checks are put in place for all shop managers, deputy managers and volunteers who supervise young people. Right now all volunteers complete a disclosure form as a minimum, which asks them questions such as whether they have any spent convictions, are on a barred list, or have been cautioned for violent or sexual offences.

Our Director of Safeguarding works directly with our Lead Safeguarding Trustee Annie Hudson, our Chair of Trustees Charles Gurassa and our CEO Danny Sriskandarajah, as well as reporting to the COO. Our trustees have greater oversight of safeguarding across the organisation, through the work of the Safeguarding & Ethics Committee, led by Annie and of which Charles is a member.

We are committed to transparency and will continue to report regularly on our progress. A breakdown of completed Oxfam GB safeguarding cases is provided in our annual report. Every six months, we publish a report on all safeguarding cases we have completed across the Oxfam confederation. The Oxfam GB Council of Trustees considers reports on safeguarding issues at every meeting, with a more detailed review of trends every six months. We also have clear policies on reporting serious incidents to donors.

We're committed to sharing information openly, ensuring public reputation is never put before the safety of people we are responsible for.

Safeguarding in our work around the world

Training during the Indonesia Tsunami and Earthquake

Local Oxfam safeguarding lead Cahyanti runs safeguarding training for our local partner organisation, staff and volunteers delivering vital aid. During emergencies, such as the disaster that hit Sulawesi in late 2018, we work collaboratively with local people and organisations to respond to the community. It's vital that everyone involved is equipped to help keep people safe at such a critical time.

Preventing exploitation of the most vulnerable

Nosiba Ahmed works for Oxfam as a Cultural Mediator in Italy. She reaches out to the most vulnerable migrants, helping to protect them from trafficking and violations of their rights to seek asylum. Having come from Sudan as a migrant herself, she really cares about building trust with people in the same situation. "Sometimes we meet people and they are hopeless... We can tell them, 'actually, there is something you can do. You have rights'." 

Breaking down the barriers women and girls face

Grace's two-hour walk to school in rural Malawi made her vulnerable. It was unsafe, she was often late and her work suffered. She used to worry about her journey. But everything changed when she got a bike from Oxfam. These days, it's easier - and safer - for Grace to get the education she needs to overcome poverty.

Our programmes are designed to defend women and girls' rights to an education, a living and freedom from fear of violence. We won't allow anything to undermine that vital work.

The Charity Commission

We have been working with the charity regulators for England and Wales, as they look into Oxfam GB's handling of misconduct in 2011. Learn more

Independent Commission Report

An independent commission of safeguarding experts has reviewed our culture and working practices globally. Read more here.

Oxfam's safeguarding and related policies