By Boris Zyumbyulev || Staff Writer
“What did we do? We murdered babies in their cots?” This is what international NGO Oxfam’s chief executive, Mark Goldring, asked during an interview with the British news organization The Guardian on February 16. The comment was part of the chief executive’s attempt to damage control the blistering details that revealed the organisation covered up several sex abuses throughout the years.
The report discovered by the Times alleged that a handful of the charity’s aid workers, most prominently Roland van Hauwermeiren, the country director of Haiti, had used prostitutes during their work following the 2011 earthquake. While the report itself was compiled and addressed by the organisation in 2011, most of the information was not revealed to the public. The investigation look into organised sex parties, using Oxfam money to pay women, and exchanging supplies for sex with the victims of the earthquake. After the initial report was circulated, Roland van Hauwermeiren admitted to using Oxfam residencies to meet with sex workers. However, the former Haiti director denied further allegations raised by the media: that he and the other men who were dismissed following the report also conducted sex parties and used NGO money to pay women.
The scandal around Oxfam erupted around Roland van Hauwermeiren’s conduct, but more importantly how the NGO handled the sex abuse information they had. The Guardian reports that the Charity Commission of the British government had been warning all aid organisations about sexual abuses. Furthermore, the 2011 Haiti report was not made then public; rather it was discovered by the Times, who released it. Additionally, the country director, Roland van Hauwermeiren was not fired, but was allowed to resign. According to Mark Goldring, Oxfam’s chief executive, when the NGO’s leadership was informed of van Hauwermeiren’s conduct, he cooperated and helped bring down the sexual abuse ring that had been created by him and a few other men in Haiti. This encouraged the organisation to allow van Hauwermeiren to resign, instead of having him fired. However, the Guardian pressed Mark Goldring further by pointing out that van Hauwermeiren, and several of the other men, were hired from other aid organisations despite their conduct. Furthermore, many of them applied to new jobs with references from Oxfam itself. Mark Goldring admitted that there was a lot done wrong with the events from 2011, but the organisation used that to develop and integrate better safeguard and whistleblow systems to protect the people they ought to be helping.
In the aftermath of the biggest crisis to hit Oxfam, the Telegraph reports that four of the NGO’s celebrity global ambassadors have left. That number includes Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South African Anglican cleric and theologian, and actress Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting; Speechless). Additionally, Oxfam has lost 7,000 donors since the scandal erupted and a Guardian/ICM poll of around 2,000 people showed that there has been a ripple effect in donors’ perception of charitable organisations. When prompted if people were “less likely to donate to humanitarian charities such as Oxfam in the future,” around a third of people answered yes. Furthermore, out of those who have already funded humanitarian organizations, just above half say they would be now less likely donate.
In an attempt however to further address the issue of sexual abuse, Oxfam International executive director Winnie Byanyima told the BBC in an interview that she is going to set up an independent commission to further investigate Oxfam and root out the problem. The idea is to create a vetting system to put a stop to sexual abuse. While she apologized sincerely for the NGO’s conduct, she believes there are thousands of people of value working for Oxfam, and that Oxfam needs to better itself.
However, the fallout continued in Haiti as well, where the government banned Oxfam Great Britain for the next two months while the investigation continues. Additionally, the president of Haiti, Jovenel Moise, has said that the Oxfam scandal is just “the tip of the iceberg.” In the same statement, president Jovenel Moise referred to Doctors without Borders: “There should be an investigation into other organisations that have been working here since 2010. For example, Doctors Without Borders had to repatriate about 17 people for misconduct which was not explained.” The requested investigation raises the possibility for higher scrutiny of charitable organisations in the years to come.
Sophomore Boris Zyumbyulev is a staff writer. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.