Oxfam In Crisis: Will the Charity Survive?

Oxfam, one of the UK’s leading charity organisations, was accused by a report in The Times on February 9 of concealing the findings of a 2011 inquiry into allegations that its senior staff paid for sex with Haitian earthquake victims, in the aftermath of the crisis that left 200,000 people dead. The man at the centre of this scandal, Haiti programme chief Roland van Hauwermeiren, has been accused of encouraging local earthquake victims into prostitution, which is against Haitian law as well as the UN code of ethics for aid workers. He has since issued a statement denying the allegations, but admitting to some ‘mistakes’ during his time in Haiti, as well as saying: ‘I should have known better, I’m made of flesh and blood, nobody’s perfect, but I’m not a pig’.


In response, the UK deputy chief executive Penny Mordaunt has resigned, and Haitian president Jovenel Moise condemned ‘sexual predator’ staff for exploiting ‘needy people in their moment of greatest vulnerability’. Actress Minnie Driver, most famous for her role in Good Will Hunting, has quit her position as charity ambassador.

These revelations have shone a spotlight on sexual abuse within the aid sector generally, with Nobel Peace Prize-winning charity Médecins Sans Frontièrs issuing a statement on February 14 confirming that they have investigated 24 cases of sexual harassment last year, and fired 19 employees as a result during the same period. It has also emerged that Roland van Hauwermeiren has been involved in similar scandals before; first in Liberia in 2004, where he was forced to leave a role with charity Merlin following an investigation into the use of sex workers by him and his colleagues, and later in Chad in 2006, where it has been alleged that prostitutes were repeatedly invited to the Oxfam team house by senior members of staff.

Nearly half a million people in the UK donate to Oxfam every year, but there has already been significant damage to the charity’s reputation as a direct result of this scandal, with Oxfam confirming that 1270 regular donations were cancelled between February 9 and February 11 (far above the usual rate of 600 cancellations per month). Additionally, Penny Mordaunt, the Secretary of State for International Development, has said that she will meet with the National Crime Agency regarding these allegations, and threatened to pull government funding worth £32m unless Oxfam provide ‘robust management’ and comply with authorities. Nigel Evans, a Conservative member of the Commons International Development Select Committee, has said that Oxfam is ‘facing obliteration’. The Charity Commission for England and Wales has launched an inquiry.

Kate Mikhaylenko

Image: [Quays News]