Feb 10, 2018

Oxfam India’s response to allegations of sexual misconduct by Oxfam staff in Haiti



This is with reference to recent reports in the international media regarding sexual misconduct by Oxfam staff in Haiti seven years ago. Oxfam India wishes to clearly state that, as an organisation committed to human rights and gender equality, we have zero tolerance for violence against women in general and sexual violence in particular. 


In 2011 a few members of the large contingent of staff deployed by Oxfam GB (OGB) in response to the devastating earthquake in the island nation were accused of sexual exploitation and abuse, as well as other unacceptable behaviour. Such conduct is totally contrary to Oxfam's values and the high standards expected of our staff everywhere and at all levels. Accordingly, OGB immediately undertook an internal investigation. While four members of staff found guilty of grave misconduct were dismissed, three - including the country director - resigned before the end of the investigation and two others faced disciplinary action. Oxfam has not and would not provide a positive reference for any of those that were dismissed or resigned as a result of the case.


The investigation into this case and others resulted in the creation of a dedicated Safeguarding Team as well as the establishment of a confidential 'whistleblowing' phone line within OGB. These measures were meant to prevent sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse and improve the handling of complaints and allegations. 


Oxfam International (a network of 21 Oxfams across the world), too, has put in place a Global Taskforce on the Prevention of Sexual Harassment, Exploitation & Abuse, co-chaired by OI's Executive Director, Winnie Byanyima. An updated, global Code of Conduct ratified in October 2017 by the Executive Board explicitly forbids such misconduct by anyone associated with any Oxfams across the world. 


Oxfam India (OIN), too, stands firmly against the exploitation and abuse of women and girls. We have adopted a best practice package of measures to ensure that we protect all our staff, and prevent sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse. If and when such reprehensible behaviour occurs, our priority is to stand fully by the survivors and to ensure that such misconduct is absolutely rooted out of our organisation. This approach also applies to all the partners OIN works with in India.


We believe the fact that the misconduct in Haiti took place seven years ago and involved a small number of staff is no cause for complacency. This is, unfortunately, not the first case of sexual misconduct Oxfam has faced internationally in recent months.


There is no doubt that, as a global alliance committed to justice and long known for humanitarian assistance, we need to take more effective action to improve the work culture within the federation, as well as each of our organisations. We are convinced that we must also create the strongest possible policies to protect the people we work with around the world and prevent any harassment or abuse of vulnerable persons. We in Oxfam India are fully committed to these goals.


We want to use this opportunity to reiterate that the confidential 'whistleblowing' line set up by OGB is available to all Oxfam staff as well as all the people we work with. We are convinced that the only way to change work culture and make the safeguarding system effective is to be open and transparent.


Nisha Agrawal, CEO of Oxfam India, summed up our stand when she said, "We are deeply distressed by what has happened. As an organisation fighting for women’s rights around the world, we have a special responsibility to protect our staff, partners, volunteers and the people we exist to serve from sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse." 


We trust that our supporters will recognise, as we do, that the actions of a few do not represent all that Oxfam stands for, and will continue to believe in our work towards a better life for all, especially the most vulnerable people in our society.


For media queries please contact, Himanshi Matta, Media Officer 91-8860182310