Charity Commission lifts statutory supervision of Oxfam GB

Melanie May | 25 February 2021 | News

Oxfam GB has been returned to standard regulatory oversight by the Charity Commission following significant improvements on safeguarding, the regulator has said.
The Charity Commission has lifted its statutory supervision of Oxfam GB after concluding that the charity has significantly strengthened its approach to keeping people safe since its 2019 inquiry called for ‘significant systemic and cultural’ change.
According to a report published today [Thursday 25 February], the charity has implemented wide-ranging changes to its organisational culture, and strengthened its approach, resources and processes, with people served or employed by the charity now better protected against abuse, exploitation, and other forms of harm.

The inquiry & its outcome

The Commission’s statutory inquiry into Oxfam GB opened in February 2018, to examine the charity’s governance, including leadership and culture around safeguarding matters, and its management, policies and practices. In two parts; the first examined the charity’s handling in 2011 of the complaints about its staff in Haiti; the second part its wider approach to safeguarding, both historically and at that time, which included supervising an independent review around safeguarding in the charity.
The inquiry concluded in June 2019 and found the charity’s governance and culture with regard to safeguarding had repeatedly fallen below standards expected, It also found that it tolerated poor behaviour and failed to meet promises made on safeguarding.
The charity committed to deliver against 100 actions or recommendations to improve the charity’s governance and approach to safeguarding – some of which were implemented while the original inquiry was ongoing. The regulator issued Oxfam GB with a legal direction under section 84 of the Charities Act to implement those actions and recommendations that were outstanding at the conclusion of the inquiry in June 2019.
The charity has since been subject to a period of statutory supervision.
Helen Stephenson, chief executive of the Charity Commission, said:

“Oxfam GB’s leadership has done much work since 2019 to respond to our inquiry, and learn lessons from the charity’s past mistakes and failings. That effort, overseen and scrutinised by the Commission, means that Oxfam GB is now providing a safer environment for all who come into contact with it. But safeguarding is never ‘done’. As our report makes clear, while Oxfam has made significant progress, its leaders must ensure that the charity’s living culture – the spoken and unspoken expectations placed on all staff and all volunteers – continues to promote an environment that keeps people safe into the future.”

She added that these issues go beyond Oxfam and that all charities should prioritise effective safeguarding:

“The public expect the way charities go about their work to be consistent with the spirit of charity – charitable aims don’t justify uncharitable means. No charity can afford to lose sight of its core purpose in the way it operates on the ground, no matter how large or complex its operations become. And when a person comes to harm because of their contact with a charity, it betrays everything charity stands for.
“All charities working with vulnerable people overseas or at home should ensure their approach to safeguarding is robust and effective. The right systems, processes and recourses are vital, but even more important are the intangible factors – leadership, organisational culture, and the commitment and integrity of everybody involved in a charity.”

Oxfam GB response

Oxfam GB has welcomed the Charity Commission’s finding, saying that safeguarding and culture change will continue to be key priorities and that it will make further improvements, and work to strengthen practice across the sector.
Danny Sriskandarajah, Oxfam GB chief executive, said:

“I am pleased that both the Charity Commission and the independent assessors have recognised the progress we have made in strengthening our safeguarding. All forms of sexual misconduct are abhorrent and an affront to everything we stand for.
“We have worked hard to learn from the mistakes of the past and ensure that our vital work to save and improve lives takes place in as safe an environment as possible in a way that is consistent with our values.
“I am acutely aware of our responsibility to those who generously fund our work and to the communities we work with around the world, as well as to our staff and volunteers. I am grateful for the trust they have placed in us as we have embarked on this important journey to become a safer organisation. Today’s announcement is an important milestone in that journey, but I can promise that this is not the end of our efforts.”

Clifford Isabelle, Oxfam Director of Global Safeguarding, also commented, saying:

“No organisation can ever say it is free from the risk of abuse, but we will rightly be judged by what we do to mitigate that risk and by how we respond when incidents do occur. We will continue to improve, taking the necessary steps to root out unacceptable behaviour, encouraging communities to report concerns and giving top priority to the needs and wishes of survivors.
“There must be no place for perpetrators of abuse within Oxfam or the wider sector. In recent years, we have made significant strides in addressing our past failings, but we know there is more to do. Working in partnership with local communities is crucial – both in preventing abuse and ensuring that survivors have the confidence and safe spaces to report misconduct – and we are committed to doing that.”


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