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Living out values

The challenges of Haiti 2011 and lessons for how we approach safeguarding.

Mark Goldring, Chief Executive, Oxfam GB, in his introduction to the 2018 Oxfam Annual Review


For Oxfam GB, this past year will be forever associated with a front-page story in The Times on 9 February 2018, which detailed shocking abuses by some of our own staff in Haiti in 2011. The revelations caused a political and public storm which has forced us to ask painful questions of ourselves, and had repercussions across the entire worldwide aid sector.

The abhorrent events in Haiti were an affront to the values that Oxfam holds dear. I want to take this opportunity to apologise again - for our failings at that time and subsequently. We are deeply sorry. All of us at Oxfam feel a deep responsibility to put things right. As an organisation which has worked for so long to support the struggle for women's rights, our first duty now must be to ensure that our vital work takes place in a safe and secure environment for those we serve. Only through decisive action can we restore confidence and win back their trust. It is in our own hands to ensure that 2017/18 is defined not solely by the news story but also by the strength and effectiveness of our response.

From 2011, we began to make improvements to our safeguarding practices but it is a matter of deep personal regret that we did not go far enough fast enough. There are no excuses. Since February, we have embarked on a process of deeper transformation to make our organisation a safer, more respectful place for everyone - from the people we exist to support to the people who work and volunteer with us. We have tripled our safeguarding resources, set up a confidential whistleblowing hotline, changed the way we take references, and ensured that our leadership team and trustees have greater oversight of policy and practice.

The publicity we received in February has 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.

As the International Development Committee recently noted, these challenges stretch far beyond Oxfam GB. We are working closely with like-minded organisations to help prevent perpetrators of abuse from moving between agencies. With our colleagues at Oxfam International, we have appointed an independent commission to oversee improvements to our safeguarding practice. Its work is well under way and will include regular updates to the public on what has been achieved.

But this is about more than process. This is about culture, too. Over the past twelve months, society as a whole has been forced to confront its failures to protect women and girls from violence and abuse. The #MeToo movement has already begun to make the world a safer place. And while we are devastated to have been on the wrong side of this story, we stand alongside the movement wholeheartedly. We will build on the best of our work to support women's leadership and combat attitudes that tolerate violence against women and girls.

It is an understatement to say that Oxfam has been shaken by these events. From February, we felt the impact of some supporters cancelling their contributions, while many institutional donors froze existing or new funding. Although most of these institutions have now resumed funding after conducting their own audits, there has been an inevitable and continuing effect on our capacity to carry out vital work. Wherever possible, we have sought to limit the impact on frontline programmes - the recent redundancies, beyond the timeframe of this Annual Report, have been a painful but important part of that effort. I would like personally to thank and pay tribute to the many dedicated colleagues who will be leaving us.

As the Charity Commission prepares to publish the results of its Statutory Inquiry into Oxfam's handling of events in Haiti, we are committed to turning its findings into positive action. We will act on any recommendations, and those of the earlier Select Committee Report. We also look forward to playing an active role in the DFID-led Safeguarding Summit, working together with donors and those we operate alongside, to ensure that we can better protect the people we collectively serve.

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. Only a few weeks ago, I witnessed the positive difference that support makes when I travelled to Bangladesh and watched our teams working all hours to get urgently needed food, water and sanitation to Rohingya refugees. I saw 40,000 torches and solar lights being distributed, specifically as a response to women's concerns about safety at night. Our Oxfam colleagues helped identify the most vulnerable families requiring extra support, and worked with refugee leaders and camp authorities to address concerns about the security and well-being of individual women and children. It was a powerful reminder of what we admire and expect from Oxfam staff.

As I come towards the end of my own time with Oxfam GB, it is with a profound sense of hope that the lessons of the past are helping to build an even more formidable force united against poverty. Thank you to everyone who has continued to support this fight during difficult times - we are committed to proving ourselves worthy of your trust. With your help today, like every day, we can continue to make a real and positive difference to the lives of the world's poorest people.

Mark Golding has been the Chief Executive of Oxfam GB since April 2013. He will be leaving us at the end of 2018.

Mark Goldring

Chief Executive, Oxfam GB