Department for International Development
Safeguarding in the aid sector
International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt's oral statement to Parliament on preventing sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on my Department’s response to the sexual abuse and exploitation perpetrated by charity workers in Haiti in 2011, and the measures we are taking to improve safeguarding across the aid sector.
I’d like to start by paying tribute to Sean O’Neill of The Times and the two sets of whistleblowers – those in 2011 and later – for bringing this case to light.
On February ninth, The Times reported that certain Oxfam staff when in Haiti in 2011 had abused their positions of trust and paid for sex with local women. These incidents happened in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in 2010, which killed hundreds of thousands of people and left millions more homeless and reliant on aid for basic needs such as food and shelter.
This is shocking, but it is not by itself what has caused such concern about Oxfam’s safeguarding. It was what Oxfam did next.
In chaotic and desperate situations the very best safeguarding procedures and practices must be put in to place to prevent harm, but when organisations fail to report and follow up incidents of wrongdoing that occur, it undermines trust and sends a message that sexual exploitation and abuse is tolerated. We cannot prevent sexual exploitation and abuse if we don’t demonstrate zero tolerance.
In such circumstances we must be able to trust organisations not only to do all they can to prevent harm, but to report and follow up incidents of wrongdoing when they occur.
In this duty Oxfam failed under the watch of Barbara Stocking and Penny Lawrence.
They did not provide a full report to the Charity Commission. They did not provide a full report to their donors. They did not provide any report to prosecuting authorities.
In my view Mr Speaker they misled, quite possibly deliberately. Even as their report concluded that their investigation could not rule out the allegation that some of the women involved were actually children.
They did not think it was necessary to report to the police in either Haiti or the country of origin for those accountable.
I believe their motivation appears to be just the protection of the organisation’s reputation. They put that before those they were there to help and protect – a complete betrayal of trust.
A betrayal too of those who sent them there – the British people – and a betrayal of all those Oxfam staff and volunteers who do put the people they serve, first.
Last week, I met with Mark Goldring, Chief Executive of Oxfam, and Caroline Thomson, Oxfam’s Chair of Trustees.
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