By SuSanA Secretariat [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

February 12, 2018; BBC News

The UK Charity Committee has initiated an inquiry into charges that a cover-up had occurred after senior Oxfam staff had made use of prostitutes in Haiti, where local people faced a daily struggle for survival after the 2010 earthquake. In what may be the first of a number of resignations, Deputy Chief Executive Penny Lawrence has left, and the organization’s funding is at risk.

Oxfam’s own policies prohibit “sexually abusive or exploitative acts being perpetrated” by employees, including paying for sex, but reports of such violations apparently went unheard for years, as the senior Oxfam officials were transferred from one vulnerable location to another.

“Concerns were raised about the behavior of staff in Chad as well as Haiti that we failed to adequately act upon,” said Lawrence. “It is now clear that these allegations—involving the use of prostitutes and which related to the behavior of both the country director and members of his team in Chad—were raised before he moved to Haiti.”

By “he,” Lawrence is referring to Oxfam’s country director for Haiti, Roland van Hauwermeiren, who is reported to have used prostitutes at a residence rented for him by Oxfam. But that is only the tip of the iceberg. The UK Times also reported that Oxfam had already heard reports on the conduct of Mr. van Hauwermeiren in Chad, before they gave him a senior role in Haiti.

As readers may remember, NPQ recently covered a story involving the passing along of a senior official who was investigated for sexual harassment and abuse with staff at the American Red Cross to another aid organization, Save the Children. These two cases reinforce relatively longstanding allegations that aid organizations transfer known predators from one location or organization to another. International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt is calling for clearer whistleblowing policies across the charitable sector and has launched an urgent review into safeguarding and aid providers.

Oxfam Chief Executive Officer Mark Goldring reinforces this, even as he commits to reform of his own shop. “This is a much bigger issue than Oxfam, who are among the leading agencies in trying to address it, he said. “Actually, it’s an issue for the sector. Oxfam has failed—let me be clear on that—but it’s a sector-wide concern.”—Ruth McCambridge