Oxfam's "first duty" is to ensure its life-saving and life-changing work is carried out in an environment where those it serves are protected from abuse, Mark Goldring, Oxfam GB Chief Executive, said today.
His statement is made in Oxfam's 2017-18 annual report, which shows how Oxfam GB directly helped 14 million people over the last 12 months, more than at any time in its 76-year history.
The organisation's priority is to ensure that this work is always carried out safely, he said, and it is committed to putting right the mistakes of the past - a reference to sexual misconduct by Oxfam GB employees in Haiti in 2011.
Goldring said: "I am proud of the positive impact Oxfam has had on the lives of millions of people around the world. But the abhorrent events in Haiti were an affront to the values that Oxfam holds dear. For our failings at the time and subsequently, we are deeply sorry. Our first duty now must be to ensure that our vital work takes place in a safe and secure environment for all of those we serve.
"The publicity we received in February led to an increase in the number of people reporting abuse. I am grateful to all of those who have come forward and it is important that they feel able to do so. We will investigate their allegations carefully and thoroughly, and wherever misconduct is found we will take decisive and appropriate action."
Oxfam GB received 73 reports between 10 February and 31 March 2018 after it appealed for those who have experienced abuse and harassment to contact its safeguarding team. These reports included recent and historic cases dating as far back as 1992.
In total the safeguarding team received 155 reports in 2017-18 compared with 87 during 2016-17. Not all reports were of sexual misconduct, they also included other HR issues, requests for advice and expressions of concern about the well-being of staff and volunteers outside the workplace.
The importance of encouraging victims and survivors to come forward has been emphasised in recent weeks by both the Charity Commission and the Government.
Today's update builds on measures previously announced by Oxfam GB to strengthen safeguarding, including a tripling of dedicated resources, the setting up of an independent and confidential whistleblowing hotline, and the strengthening of its staff reference system. Recognising that Oxfam GB must continue to make improvements, Goldring committed to working with the Charity Commission to implement the lessons of the past.
The 14 million people helped by Oxfam GB in 2017-18 include 10.7 million people assisted through emergency humanitarian responses in places like Syria, Yemen, Bangladesh and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Many more people benefitted from Oxfam's work to improve laws, policies and practice across the world to help people escape poverty.
Mark Goldring added: "Now more than ever, I am convinced that Oxfam's work must not stop, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the vast majority of our supporters who have kept faith with us."
The annual report showed that Oxfam GB raised £427.2 million in 2017-18, up from £408.6m in the previous financial year.
Revelations about the 2011 Haiti safeguarding case emerged in the final weeks of the financial year and the full impact upon Oxfam GB's income is not yet clear. This will be apparent in next year's annual report and accounts.
Global Safeguarding Update
The annual report is being published alongside an update on Oxfam's global action plan to strengthen its safeguarding procedures. As part of a commitment to greater transparency, this includes the publication of consolidated data on worldwide safeguarding cases for the past six months.
The data, which will be published twice a year by Oxfam International, shows that safeguarding teams completed investigations into seven cases since 1 April 2018. A further 60 cases were still being investigated as of 20 September when the figures were compiled. This is not directly comparable with data from the annual report because they use different definitions. Oxfam is moving towards a common standard for reporting safeguarding cases.
Further progress on the action plan includes:
- Oxfam has so far surveyed over 400 partner organisations in 44 countries so it can work with them effectively to build awareness and improve practice.
- The Independent Commission set up in March 2018 to review Oxfam's culture and safeguarding systems has established a Survivor Reference Group consisting of 10 survivors of abuse to help guide the commissioners' work and recommendations.
- There is now at least one trained staff member responsible for safeguarding in every country in which Oxfam operates. This includes preventing abuse, receiving allegations, providing advice and improving awareness.
- Oxfam has expanded the services available to survivors of abuse, including increased counselling and psychosocial support.
For more information, please contact the Oxfam Media Unit on firstname.lastname@example.org / 01865 472498
Notes to editors:
- Oxfam GB's safeguarding figures in the annual report include all incidents or issues received by the Safeguarding Team regardless of whether they are substantiated or involve Oxfam staff or volunteers. Some of the reports relate to concerns about the wellbeing of staff and volunteers outside of the workplace. They do not include reports from Northern Ireland as these are covered by Oxfam Ireland.
- Out of the 155 reported cases, 111 resulted in Oxfam GB launching internal investigations, of which 40 had been completed when data for the annual report was compiled in August. More investigations have been completed in the months since then.
- The allegations were upheld or partially upheld in 23 of the completed investigations, resulting in disciplinary action ranging from written warnings to dismissal. The other reports were not investigated for a number of reasons, including because they were handled by the police or other statutory services, because the alleged victim did not want to take the case forward, or because, in less serious cases, the issue was addressed by further training and advice.
- The consensus among sector and government representatives at last week's International Safeguarding Summit was that an increase in reported safeguarding cases is to be expected, and is a sign that the issue is being addressed.
- The 14 million people Oxfam GB helped in 2017/18 includes 1.5 million in Syria who received food, clothing, water and hygiene items. A further 1.35 million people received life-saving aid in Yemen, many of them suffering from acute hunger and malnutrition and the effects of cholera. In Bangladesh, Oxfam GB installed over 500 water points and 3,000 toilets, and provided food vouchers to over 50,000 Rohingya refugees.
- On average, for every £1 raised through donations and shops, 83p is spent on emergency, development and campaigning work, 10p is spent on support and running costs and 7p is invested to generate future income. Of the 83p spent on emergency, development and campaigning work, the breakdown is as follows: 44p on humanitarian emergencies, 37p on longer-term development and 2p on campaigning and advocacy.
- Mark Goldring, who became Oxfam GB Chief Executive in 2013, will step down at the end of 2018.