The Charity Commission has opened a statutory inquiry into Oxfam following allegations of misconduct by staff involved in its work in Haiti in the wake of the 2010 earthquake. The Commission, the independent regulator of charities in England and Wales, is specifically concerned about how Oxfam disclosed details about the allegations at the time (2011) and since.
The inquiry was established following a meeting between the Commission’s Chief Executive, Helen Stephenson, and the Secretary of State for International Development. The Minister had earlier met with senior staff from Oxfam to discuss the allegations and Oxfam’s actions, and to examine documentary evidence regarding the process.
The inquiry and meetings follow investigations by The Times, first reported last Friday, that dug further into Oxfam’s inquiry in 2011 about alleged use of sex workers by Oxfam staff.
Scope of the inquiry
The inquiry is instituted under section 46 of the Charities Act 2011. In opening an inquiry, the Charity Commission has access to a range of investigative, protective and remedial legal powers.
Section 46 of the Charities Act 2011 gives the commission the power to institute inquiries. The opening of an inquiry gives the commission access to a range of investigative, protective and remedial legal powers.
The initial aim of the inquiry is to investigate:
- concerns that Oxfam may not have fully and frankly disclosed material details about the allegations at the time in 2011
- Oxfam’s handling of the incidents since
- the impact that these have both had on public trust and confidence
The Commission has a duty to promote public trust and confidence in charities.
However, the Commission indicated that the focus of the inquiry might expand. It stated: “further details about the scope of the inquiry will be made public in the coming days”. This might enable it to explore further allegations about Oxfam’s approach to safeguarding which were made by Helen Evans, the charity’s former Head of Safeguarding, on Channel 4 News last night.
Nor does the Commission’s statement mention allegations about some Oxfam staff in Chad using women sex workers.
The findings will be placed on the public record. The final report will detail:
- what issues the inquiry looked at
- what actions were undertaken as part of the inquiry
- and what the outcomes were.
Reports of previous inquiries by the Charity Commission can be viewed on gov.uk.
David Holdsworth, Deputy Chief Executive of the Charity Commission said: “Charities and dedicated, hard-working aid workers undertake vital, lifesaving work in some of the most difficult circumstances across the world. However, the issues revealed in recent days are shocking and unacceptable. It is important that we take this urgent step to ensure that these matters can be dealt with fully and robustly.”
More international aid charities invited to summit on safeguarding
The Charity Commission and DFID (the Department for International Development) have stated that they will call “key international aid charities” to a summit on safeguarding in the next few weeks, with the aim of hosting “a significant conference” on the issues.
There is no mention of UK domestic charities being involved in this conference, even though they face the same obligations and challenges regarding safeguarding.
That said, the Commission issued an alert about safeguarding to all charities in December 2017 asking them to submit details of any previously unreported serious incidents to the Commission straight away. It also reminded charities to review their safeguarding practices and procedures if they had not done so in the last 12 months.
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