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Tackling abuse: Information and updates

We are deeply sorry for our failings in preventing and tackling sexual abuse in Haiti and subsequently. We are an organisation that fights for women's rights, and that makes this disgraceful behaviour particularly hard to bear. We have improved since 2011 but we know we need to do more.

Our first duty is to make sure that our life-saving and life-changing work takes place in a safe and secure environment for all of those we serve. Through our ten point action plan we are continuing to improve our approach to safeguarding.

'The challenges of Haiti 2011 and lessons for how we approach safeguarding' - Mark Goldring, Chief Executive, Oxfam GB, in our Annual Review 2018.

Read the Annual Review in full

Our action plan

If we are to keep people safe today and tomorrow, there can be no half measures. To ensure the safety and dignity of every person we work with and for, Oxfam has introduced a 10-point action plan based on three principles:

  • our commitment to transparency
  • our commitment to transformational change in our culture
  • our commitment to women's rights

Read the report of the investigation carried out in 2011, into allegations of sexual misconduct in Haiti

Progress on our 10-point plan

Last updated: 22/10/18 

  • 1. An Independent High-Level Commission on Sexual Misconduct, Accountability and Culture Change

    Our commitment: Oxfam cannot exonerate itself from the charges made against it and will not try. We will establish a High-Level Commission to operate at arms-length from Oxfam, comprised of senior leaders from across the world. Its Independent CoChairs will determine the scope of its own inquiry in consultation with the Board of Oxfam International. It will have full powers to investigate past and present cases, policies, practices and culture. It will listen to criticisms and allegations, particularly in relation to the abuse of power and sexual misconduct. It will endeavour to create a comprehensive historical record which will be made publicly available. Oxfam will be guided by whatever recommendations the Commission makes.

    What we have done so far October 2018:

    • On March 16, 2018, Oxfam announced an Independent Commission, cochaired by Zainab Bangura, former United Nations under-secretary general, and Katherine Sierra, former World Bank vice-president. They lead a team of experienced individuals from business, government and civil society.
    • The commission will publish its interim report in November - meeting Oxfam's commitment of publish within six months - and a final report within the 12month commitment (May 2019). The Co-Chairs meet with the Oxfam Executive Board and Board of Supervisors this month to share initial reflections.
    • The Commission has set up a Survivor Reference Group to ensure its work is grounded in the realities of survivors of sexual exploitation, harassment and abuse. This group of ten survivors is led by Megan Nobert, a human rights lawyer and founder of "Report the Abuse".
    • The Commission has launched a website and twitter account to communicate directly with the public and Oxfam staff and volunteers. People can share information on these channels, including anonymously.
    • Commissioners will go on up to ten field visits to listen to staff, partners and communities, seeking to understand how Oxfam's safeguarding works on the ground and how it is improving its organisational culture and accountability.
    • The Commission will review Oxfam's draft safeguarding policies and Standard Operating Procedures.
    • The Commission has hired Proteknon Consulting Group, an expert organisation in community and participatory research, to visit three countries to learn from local communities about what improvements they want for reporting abuse and getting support during an investigation.
    • The Commission is using research methodology currently used by Oxfam America and Oxfam India to listen to communities' perspectives.

    Other external reviews:

    • Oxfam GB is continuing to cooperate with the UK Charity Commission's statutory inquiry.
    • A number of Oxfam affiliates including Oxfam America have contracted independent reviews of their safeguarding work, including of some past cases.
    • Oxfam India has had independent experts do a gender audit of its safeguarding policies and its organisational culture on gender and exclusion.
    • Oxfam International has contracted external investigators to review past cases, excluding those that the UK Charity Commission has reviewed. They will identify areas for improvements including of case management, and how the rights of survivors are protected throughout investigations. Their findings will feed into the Independent Commission's final report
  • 2. Reiterated commitment to collaborate with all relevant authorities

    Our commitment: We will redouble efforts to show transparency and full cooperation with relevant authorities in any way that can achieve justice for survivors and help to prevent any instance of abuse in the future. This includes proactively reaching out to regulators and governments in countries where we operate to offer to share any information they need or may wish to see. Our aim is to ensure authorities can again feel confident in our policies and processes, with a demonstrable commitment to transparency whilst protecting the safety and confidentiality of survivors.

    What we have done so far October 2018:

    • In July Oxfam committed to publish, for the first time, data from the immediate past six-months relating to safeguarding cases from across its confederation. This data is currently being consolidated and will be published shortly.
    • Oxfam remains committed to do its best to comply with the laws and regulations of every country where we operate, and against the requirements of our donors and regulators. Oxfam is talking with a number of big institutional donors about their reporting requirements and how our new policies and procedures will comply with them.
    • We are finalising Oxfam-wide standard operating procedures including for reporting misconduct on safeguarding and financial misconduct to regulators, authorities and donors, and for case and investigation management. Interim measures are in place until these new procedures are rolled out this month across our confederation.
    • We are producing guidance on reporting misconduct to national authorities. Oxfam teams are reviewing their processes to ensure they comply with local authority requirements. For example, we have taken advice from the Belgian government to improve our internal processes and similarly so in Sri Lanka, Zambia, Spain, Hong Kong and Great Britain.
    • In August Oxfam GB's safeguarding policies and practice were independently reviewed on behalf of the UK Department for International Development, as part of DFID's due diligence process to implement new Safeguarding Standards for UK charities and NGOs.
  • 3. Re-examine past cases and encourage other witnesses or survivors to come forward

    Our commitment: We owe it to anyone who may have been affected by the misconduct of Oxfam staff to look back at previous cases and re-examine whether they were dealt with appropriately. If they were not then, insofar as is possible, we will take new action in line with Oxfam's values. This may lead to some current staff facing disciplinary action and possibly losing their jobs. We will continue to communicate to staff, volunteers, partners and beneficiaries that it is safe and indeed actively encouraged to report any instances that they experienced or witnessed that they have previously felt unable to report or were not adequately dealt with at the time. We will ensure an effective whistle-blower system that can be easily and safely utilized by staff, volunteers and people external to Oxfam. More resources will be made available for this as needed.

    What we have done so far October 2018:

    • Oxfam has independent external whistleblowing systems in five languages and publicized these to staff.
    • Oxfam GB has established a confidential mechanism (called "Speak Up") to take reports on any type of misconduct including on safeguarding, fraud, modern slavery and employee relations. A previously established reporting system remains available to all Oxfam staff via:
    • Oxfam GB is also communicating with communities about how and who to contact to raise concerns, rather than in placing reliance solely on its whistleblowing hot-lines.
    • Some other affiliates have their own systems. Oxfam Hong Kong, Oxfam America and Oxfam Australia have publicized whistle-blowing channels to all their partners. Oxfam Australia is reviewing its complaint mechanisms and updating its intranet and external website to make reporting clearer and easier.
    • All Oxfam country teams are ensuring that whistle-blowing and reporting systems such as emails, hot-lines and websites, are in place and accessible.
    • Oxfam has established 'Safeguarding Focal Points' in all its country teams: these are experienced volunteer staff who support awareness and prevention activities, offer advice to people who have concerns to discuss, and who can be the first point of contact to begin taking grievances into the formal safeguarding process.
    • Oxfam has set-up a confederation wide database of safeguarding cases. This now captures anonymised summary information on historical and current cases. All Oxfam affiliates are required to input into the database immediately that a case is opened. We are able to improve our ability to monitor cases, analyse trends and identify under-reporting and slow progress.
    • We are running awareness and prevention trainings and using staff meetings, newsletters, emails, Workplace (Facebook at work) and noticeboards to create a better "culture of safety".
    • Nine Oxfam affiliates (Belgium, Italy, Quebec, America, Spain, Australia, Mexico, Canada and GB) have expanded or set up survivor support mechanisms that include counselling, psychosocial support and medical aid. They are improving access to these services including for the people we work with in our programmes.
    • Oxfam Intermon (Spain) now has a psychosocial support team of trained staff.
    • Oxfam Australia now has trained Workplace Discrimination & Harassment Contact Officers, Domestic and Family Violence Responders and Mental Health First Aiders, who support the Safeguarding Focal Points.
    • Oxfam GB now provides PSEA/child protection specialists from the safeguarding team to ensure that survivors are not caused any further harm through the investigation process, and women investigators to interview survivors where necessary.
    • Oxfam Canada has held two mandatory all-staff training days on how to properly accept a disclosure from someone who has been a victim of sexual misconduct, so as to not re-traumatize them while ensuring proper support.
  • 4. Increase our investment in safeguarding

    Our commitment: The Oxfam confederation will significantly increase investment both in budget and staffing to ensure we have appropriate resources to ensure the safety and well-being of all people who come into contact with Oxfam staff. We will also increase our investment in gender training, including recruitment of more staff who will lead our work on gender equality and empowerment in programs and humanitarian response teams.

    What we've done so far October 2018:

    • Oxfam International has upped its safeguarding budget to €1.1m, hiring a safeguarding Associate Director and a Project Manager. It is funding the Independent Commission and its activities, external investigators, staff trainings, new regional advisors, and more capacity to produce new 'One Oxfam' policies and procedures and to improve internal communications. It is funding a new partner capacity survey and activities to reshape Oxfam's culture.
    • Oxfam affiliates have invested more than €2m in new staff to support safeguarding improvements activities in countries and regions, to carry out investigations, promote awareness and prevention and review new policies and procedures.
    • Oxfam's humanitarian department (our "Global Humanitarian Team") has established two new safeguarding roles to provide expertise and support in its emergency responses.
    • We have trained 119 safeguarding investigators, 102 from Oxfam and 17 from other agencies. Our Middle East and North Africa region has trained 16 Arabic speaking investigators who will now receive mentoring and case experience. These newly trained investigators are now listed on a new database to deploy to work alongside more experienced investigators. These staff are from the countries where Oxfam delivers its programmes and therefore have a better understanding of local contexts and culture.
    • We have trained safeguarding focal points in our Horn, East and Central Africa and our Southern Africa regions. All country focal points will be trained by end March 2019. All focal points in high-risk countries i.e. those in conflict, or with high humanitarian needs, will be trained by end December 2018. The focal points in our Latin America and Caribbean region have set up regular meetings as a group to share experiences and training.
    • Country teams are appointing a safeguarding focal point at any major Oxfam organised event and are developing a clear accountability and responsibility structure, as is current practice in Oxfam GB.
    • Oxfam is currently recruiting seven Regional Safeguarding Advisors to support countries and bring in additional support and expertise.
    • Oxfam is improving safeguarding processes and building confidence and capacity to manage investigations more effectively, for example through group discussions between country directors.
    • The first phase of Oxfam's new online training is being rolled out.
    • Oxfam has begun compulsory training on gender justice across the Oxfam confederation and has asked all staff to take a course on gender and power. Oxfam GB has created two new posts to reinforce their Gender Senior Management Team dealing with communications, diversity and inclusion.
    • All staff at Oxfam Canada are required to complete a gender justice training. It has recruited a senior manager who will support the Executive Director in strengthening its safeguarding work.
    • Oxfam Novib (The Netherlands) is recruiting an Integrity Lead and Senior investigator.
  • 5. Strengthen internal processes

    Our commitment: We will improve our internal processes including to ensure that official Oxfam references are never given to offenders seeking jobs elsewhere. We will strengthen the vetting and recruitment of staff including to make safeguarding a mandatory part of the recruitment and selection process and in performance management criteria. We will make safeguarding training mandatory for all staff. We will strengthen whistle-blowing process to ensure it is safe and easy for people to use. All Oxfam affiliates will have trained safeguarding focal points, including at all major Oxfam-organized events. We will ensure our systems are reliable in order to report any suspected illegal activity to the relevant authorities.

    What we've done so far October 2018:

    • Oxfam is in the final stage of approving new safeguarding policies that will be applicable everywhere we work, rather than countries and affiliates having their own separate policies:
      • PSEA policy
      • Child Safeguarding policy
      • Survivor Support policy
      • Digital Safeguarding policy
      • Youth Safeguarding policy
      • Vulnerable Adults policy
    • Oxfam has developed Reporting Misconduct standard operating procedures and is developing new procedures for case and investigation management, to ensure consistency of best practice.
    • Oxfam has developed guidance on safe programming, including Guidelines for Youth programming. For example, we recently included Safe Programming as a component of our Real Time Review procedure; this is where we evaluate a humanitarian emergency response in the first few weeks of its operation.
    • Oxfam has improved its recruitment processes including by agreeing a bank of safeguarding questions for job interviews and new wording for job advertisements that publicise Oxfam's commitment to prevent any type of unwanted behaviour and that all staff must share Oxfam's values.
    • Oxfam has set up a central system for providing references, whereby every Oxfam affiliate now has accredited referees who ensure that staff references will refer to findings of gross misconduct, including sexual abuse, where this is lawful.
    • In Oxfam's Latin America and the Caribbean region, country teams are now integrating safeguarding into other human resource processes including performance reviews.
    • Oxfam has included safeguarding questions in all internal and external evaluations and partnership policy tools in our Middle East and North Africa region. This region is also beginning to integrate safeguarding into local partners' policies and practices. Several country teams have proposed Annual Accountability reports with separate sections on safeguarding.
    • Oxfam Novib (The Netherlands) has revised its procedures to be fit for purpose in dealing with safeguarding.
  • 6. Re-enforce a culture of zero tolerance towards harassment, abuse or exploitation

    Our commitment: We will change the culture that enabled harassment, exploitation, discrimination and abuse to exist within Oxfam and help to lead this change throughout the sector. We will work with agencies to support Oxfam's cultural shift. We will set up a Prevention of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA) Taskforce to make recommendations that we will act upon with urgency.

    What we've done so far October 2018:

    • As well as signing the revised Code of Conduct, staff are discussing what it means in terms of practical behaviour. These discussions are supported by new materials including scenarios, case studies and guiding questions.
    • Some Oxfam countries have developed a Code of Conduct for non-Oxfam staff and has socialised this with volunteers and suppliers.
    • 110 Oxfam staff members have now volunteered into the "Living Our Values Everyday" (LOVE) initiative to discuss culture change and drive improvement, including:
      • Values and Code of Conduct: On-line discussions and face to face workshops and an induction module on what our values mean in our everyday working life.
      • Senior leadership role modelling: Senior leadership are discussing issues within Oxfam's organizational culture and are role-modelling positive behaviours.
      • Feminist Leadership Principles: Oxfam's Executive Board is discussing how these principles can support positive change in Oxfam and its work.
      • Discuss, reflect and actively listen: Teams are using a new toolkit of methodologies to guide behaviours in internal and external meetings.
      • An assessment of Oxfam's organizational culture is being designed and the outcomes will inform an internal "LOVE" campaign.
      • Staff Wellbeing: how Oxfam culture should support staff well-being.
      • Accountability and transparency: Identifying ways to hold people to account if they do not model Oxfam's values in their behaviour.
      • Oxfam Culture Manifesto to describe a common Oxfam culture.
    • Oxfam has improved its Country Leadership Development Program by including within it feminist leadership principles.
    • Oxfam teams in Syria and Tunisia have assigned 'Code of Conduct' champions to promote the Code with staff and with partners.
    • The Oxfam team in Zimbabwe has a regular lecture series that links its safeguarding policies to Oxfam's Code of Conduct.
    • Oxfam County Directors in our Latin America and the Caribbean region have added culture change as a standing agenda item to their meetings.
    • A diverse group of staff, in total 75, from all parts of Oxfam GB, have taken part in the first step of our culture programme, looking at assessing our current culture.
    • The majority of Oxfam GB staff in the UK have participated in a series of six culture workshops on organisational culture.
    • Oxfam Novib (The Netherlands) has developed an Integrity Framework which describes how it will integrate integrity and safeguarding in the core of all they do and how resources will be used to deliver this.
    • Oxfam Italy has worked with an external expert to develop a gender equality course to tackle stereotypes, commonly used language, beliefs and ways of working, to enhance mutual understanding and respect.
    • Oxfam's Global Humanitarian Team is using training material on the Code of Conduct and culture change.
    • All Oxfam Canada staff have had training related to the Oxfam's Code of Conduct and two day-long training sessions on safeguarding policies and how to accept disclosures of sexual misconduct. All staff and the Oxfam Canada Board participated in a day-long session on supporting diversity and inclusion.
    • Oxfam Novib (The Netherlands) has introduced a session on integrity in its induction programmes for new staff.
  • 7. Work with our peers across the sector to tackle physical, sexual and emotional abuse

    Our commitment: We will work with the rest of our sector to ensure people are safe, recognizing there are actions we cannot take on our own. This includes how to ensure that offenders who have lost their job with one organization cannot move on to another. We will work with UN bodies, the International Civil Society Center and other joint NGO platforms to agree proposals for sector-wide improvement. We will contribute to the work initiated by BOND in the UK for a humanitarian passport and/or anti-offenders' system housed by an accountable agency such as UN OCHA.

    What we've done so far October 2018:

    • Oxfam is contributing to the development of an Inter-Agency Misconduct Disclosure Scheme.
    • All Oxfam affiliates are active in sectoral initiatives in their own countries including:
      • Oxfam France and Oxfam Italy are part of cross-sector human resource groups;
      • Oxfam Intermon (Spain) and Oxfam Ireland are part of safeguarding working groups with other INGOs;
      • The Executive Directors of Oxfam Quebec and Oxfam Canada both joined a new Steering Committee to Prevent and Address Sexual Misconduct alongside ten other NGO leaders, initiated by the Canadian Council for International Cooperation; the Oxfam Canada executive director is co-chairing the committee. Both organizations helped to develop the Canadian Council for International Cooperation (CCCI).
      • Leaders' Pledge on Preventing and Addressing Sexual Misconduct.
      • Oxfam Australia is participating in the Australian Council for International Development safeguarding review and is a member of various Communities of Practices, as well as informal diversity networks within the INGO sector.
      • Oxfam Novib (The Netherlands) is active in the Dutch development and humanitarian network, PARTOS, which is developing a Joint Integrity Program. This aims to support the improvement of Integrity systems of Dutch INGOs and enhance their prevention, response and reporting mechanisms.
      • Oxfam America's chief executive is playing a leading role in safeguarding among other international NGOs in the US, including within the Interaction alliance.
      • Oxfam GB has engaged with other INGOs on how best to undertake international criminal checks, something Interpol has supported. The UK Department for International Development has proposed a Global Centre of Excellence after discussions with the UK sector including Oxfam GB.
      • Oxfam GB has also been working with DfID and the UK Bond network, and Oxfam Canada with the Canadian government, in the lead up to the Global Summit on Safeguarding.
      • Oxfam in Jordan is a member of a PSEA network, including with UN organisations and other INGOs and national groups, within which information, lessons and resources are being shared.
  • 8. Active engagement with partners and allies, especially women’s rights organizations

    Our commitment: We will reach out to partners and allies to rebuild trust including from their input on how we can learn and improve. We will reach out to women's rights organizations and others who work on Prevention of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA) issues, to answer their questions, hear their reflections and concerns, and ensure our responses are defined in consultation with them.

    What we've done so far October 2018:

    • Oxfam has sent a new safeguarding questionnaire to its 67 country programme offices. We plan to assess our partners' capacities to manage misconduct (both safeguarding and financial). More than 400 partners from 44 countries have answered so far. We will use this data to ensure that all our partners are able to meet donor compliance standards and inform a revised version of the "One Oxfam Partner Assessment Tool".
    • Oxfam is designing new safeguarding awareness-raising tool for communities and partner organisations. This has been used so for in our Middle East and North Africa, the Pacific, Southern Africa, Asia and Latin America regions.
    • Oxfam Australia has partnered with Women's Health Victoria on a "Domestic Violence Bystander" programme that involved all Oxfam Australia staff.
    • Oxfam Intermon (Spain) organised a closed-door meeting with the main allied women's rights organisations to strengthen its support.
    • The Oxfam 'Accountability Working Group' is designing a way to work with communities, local staff and partners to understand their needs and preferences for misconduct reporting. This will allow local staff and partners to make more informed choices, give stronger guidance and organise their resources to better support survivors.
    • Oxfam Italy, Oxfam Hong Kong, Oxfam Belgium and Oxfam Quebec have circulated information on whistleblowing channels to their partners and volunteers.
    • Oxfam America has given partners safeguarding posters in local languages which they will post in visible areas.
    • Oxfam Canada has significant partnerships with women's rights organizations in its programs, many that stemmed from its flagship Engendering Change program. It is on the steering committee of 'Up for Debate', a coalition of national women's rights organizations fighting for political parties to include women's rights on their platforms, including in international humanitarian work. Oxfam Canada is to launch its "What She Knows Matters" campaign for more funding and attention to gender issues in emergencies. Oxfam Canada recently conducted a national speaking tour on violence against women and girls in partnership with indigenous women and women's rights organizations.
  • 9. Listen to the public

    Our commitment: We will listen and learn from feedback from supporters around the world. We will ensure two-way communication with them, responding to the concerns they raise and explaining the actions we are taken to learn and change.

    What we've done so far October 2018:

    • Oxfam affiliates are surveying levels of public trust to help communicate more clearly and effectively.
    • Oxfam Intermon (Spain) is publishing a monthly update on its website about how it is strengthening its safeguarding work.
    • Oxfam Italy is implementing an online "stakeholder-listening" survey and series of interviews with internal and external stakeholders, results of which will be presented in public meetings in Florence, Milan and Rome.
    • Oxfam Canada held two public town hall webinars to discuss issues around sexual misconduct.
  • 10. Recommit and strengthen our focus on gender justice externally

    Our commitment: We reiterate and reinforce our commitment to putting women's rights and gender justice at the centre of our work. Recognising we have a lot to learn and put right as an organisation, Oxfam will continue to build investment in advocacy, campaigns and programming focused on tackling the injustices women living in poverty face around the world. This includes addressing social norms that cause violence against women, campaigning to rectify systematic power imbalances that trap women into poverty, and partnering with feminist and women's rights organisations to address gender injustice at all levels. It includes strengthening and focusing our development and humanitarian programs to deliver transformational change in the lives of women living in poverty.

    What we've done so far October 2018:

    • Oxfam has tracked its baseline investment into gender programming in order to increase its targets.
    • Oxfam's Latin America and the Caribbean region has published a new regional report on the social norms and belief systems that perpetuate violence against women and girls as part of Oxfam's international "Enough" campaign.
    • Oxfam campaign teams across Africa have created a continent-wide campaign strategy, under which Oxfam in Mozambique has launched 'CHEGA', a campaign to tackle sexual violence.
    • Oxfam staff attended the "Girls Not Brides" strategic meeting in Malaysia and will bring 20 feminist activists in Asia together to share lessons on how to change harmful social norms.
    • Oxfam is redesigning its humanitarian structure to increase staff capacity to ensure that gender equality becomes a stronger, standard part of Oxfam's emergency responses.
    • Oxfam is designing a women's right program in Haiti in partnership with national women's rights organisations.
    • Our Middle East and North Africa region is helping to develop a regional model law to eliminate violence against women.
    • Oxfam GB continues to play a key role in the UK's Gender and Development Network and is engaged with Womankind, the Women's March, and other key allies.
    • Oxfam Australia is undertaking a gender mapping exercise.
    • Oxfam Italy has developed a training course on gender equality which will be rolled out to all its HQ staff this month.
    • Oxfam Canada continues to focus exclusively on gender equality and women's rights in its programs and influencing/campaigning work, working in partnership with women's rights organisation and integrating feminist principles into all its programmatic work and organizational culture. It has launched programs on women's economic empowerment, leadership and voice, on combating violence against women, and on sexual and reproductive health and rights. This work represents tens of millions of dollars invested in gender equality and women's rights.

Talk to us

If you would like to talk about how Oxfam is working to tackle abuse, if you have ideas for how we could do more, or about anything else that you would like to know, please do get in touch.

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Safeguarding in our shops 

You may also have seen reports of sexual misconduct in our UK shops dating from before 2014/15. We want you to be assured that the safety of our shop volunteers is of utmost importance to Oxfam.

Find out more about safeguarding in our shops

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