In Depth

How has Oxfam sex scandal affected the charity?

Jobs to be cut to make up for £16m shortfall following Haiti abuse

Oxfam is reportedly set to cut dozens of jobs as the charity faces a £16m budget shortfall in the wake of the Haiti sex scandal.

In a leaked memo to staff, obtained by The Times, the charity’s CEO Danny Sriskandarajah said the budget gap “must be filled primarily by reducing our core costs”, and admitted that Oxfam was going through a “difficult time”.

The charity has reportedly received fewer donations and has struggled to win back public confidence after allegations surfaced that staff members used local young sex workers during a disaster relief mission in Haiti in 2010 – and that the charity tried to stage a cover-up. But what has happened in the years since the scandal broke in 2018?

How did the scandal unfold?

In February 2018, The Times published a front-page article under the headline “Top Oxfam staff paid Haiti survivors for sex”, in which it alleged that Oxfam had covered up claims that senior staff working in Haiti in the wake of the 2010 earthquake used prostitutes, some of whom may have been under-age.

In the following weeks, Oxfam admitted that the behaviour of some of its staff had been “totally unacceptable”, the BBC reports, but claimed that it had publicly announced an investigation into the allegations when they first surfaced in 2011, and had dismissed several senior aid workers as a result of its findings.

The broadcaster notes that Oxfam at the time said that four members of staff were dismissed and three, including the country director Roland Van Hauwermeiren, were allowed to resign before the end of the investigation owing to “serious breaches of its code of conduct”.

However, the charity was accused of a cover-up in 2018 after The Times said it had not specified in its report the allegations of sexual misconduct, prompting Oxfam to offer an apology to the country of Haiti later the same year.

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What has happened since?

In the wake of the scandal, Haiti banned Oxfam GB from operating in the country, citing the charity’s “violation of its laws and serious breach of the principle of human dignity”, and the revelations also led to a temporary ban on funding from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID).

In June 2018 Oxfam warned staff it needed to urgently find £16m of savings and radically reduce the number of its poverty-relieving aid efforts. An internal letter from the then chief executive of Oxfam GB, Mark Goldring, said the charity would “have to save substantial amounts of money to put [us] on a more stable and sustainable footing”, adding that job losses were “inevitable”.

However, saving efforts appear to have fallen short, as The Times reported this week that Oxfam had income of £434m in the year 2018-19, but faces a deficit of £7m for 2019-20 and a further deficit of £9m for 2020-21.

In a letter to staff, Sriskandarajah said he would be bringing forward plans to “review the size and shape of Oxfam GB” and the process would begin by reducing the number of senior managers, but he added that Oxfam’s woes are tied to wider issues in the charity sector.

In its 2019 report on donations, the Charities Aid Foundation found a “steady decline” in people giving to charity combined with a significant loss of trust in such organisations. 

“Over the past three years, at an overall level, fewer people are participating in charitable or social activities,” the report said. “Since 2016, the number of people doing so within the last four weeks has decreased from 68% to 64%, which is a significant decline.”

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