Viewpoint: The trashing of Oxfam

  • Tricia Zipfel

It has been beyond frustrating to watch the media, politicians and others trash Oxfam over the past week, in what feels like a feeding frenzy that now poses an existential threat to the organisation and possibly to the whole international aid effort.

Oxfam does not deserve this, nor do the people at the centre of the storm, who have provided exemplary moral leadership for decades, but whose lives and reputations are being wrecked.

I was an Oxfam trustee in 2011 and served on the sub committee that dealt with the Haiti crisis and its aftermath, so I know first-hand how seriously it was taken.

With hindsight, we would all agree that we could have handled it differently/better. For example, we could have involved the police (though this was a country in melt-down after a devastating earthquake) and, in reporting to the Charity Commission and DfID, we could have been more explicit about the nature of the gross misconduct involved. But there was no attempt to 'cover-up' the issue.

Radical action was taken at the time, to address the problem overseas and in the UK, particularly in relation to volunteers and the shops, and as a result, Oxfam is now seen as a leader in safeguarding good practice. Obviously more could have been done - more resources provided.

But Oxfam senior staff and trustees took the matter extremely seriously and worked hard to improve safeguarding policy and practice over the following months and years.

Andrew Hind, former CEO of the Charity Commission, has written as follows:

"……..moral leadership at the top is unquestionably being demonstrated in the charity right now, just as it has been demonstrated in spades by Oxfam leaders for many years." He points out that: "…..after Haiti, Oxfam established a head of safeguarding position, created a whistleblowing hotline, sent safeguarding training teams to country programmes and voluntarily included a detailed summary of reported safeguarding incidents in its published trustees annual report every year, available for all to read on the Charity Commission register of charities. Oxfam's transparency about the safeguarding issues it was having to deal with was second to none."

He also quotes research on safeguarding across the INGO sector, by Tuft University, that identified this as an "industry wide" problem. In that research, Oxfam's approach to safeguarding is highlighted as a "model of good practice" and other INGOs are urged to follow Oxfam's lead. See:

Megan Nobert, a human rights lawyer, who founded Report the Abuse, the first organisation to challenge the silence surrounding sexual violence in the aid sector, said that the incident in Haiti was "a catalyst for change within Oxfam, and they are now leading the way to address this issue within the humanitarian community". Read her article here:

And please pass this on to anyone who you think might need to see it.

Tricia Zipfel

London N4


Sabita Banjeri's blog:

Maggie Black's article in the New Internationalist:

and Patrick Cockburn in The Independent:

Tags: Oxfam, Viewpoint, Haiti, Trisha Zipfel

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