England's charity watchdog condemned Oxfam GB on Tuesday for having a "culture of poor behaviour," in connection with the sexual misconduct scandal involving its workers in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake.
The Charity Commission for England and Wales issued an official warning following an 18-month investigation that concluded Oxfam's culture and response to keeping people safe was inadequate and failed to take risks to alleged victims seriously enough. The commission said that while management had good intentions, they weren't matched by resources and an organizational culture that prioritized keeping people safe.
"No charity is so large, nor is its mission so important that it can afford to put its own reputation ahead of the dignity and wellbeing of those it exists to protect," commission chair Tina Stowell said.
The Times of London first reported misconduct allegations against seven former Oxfam GB staff in Haiti, including the use of prostitutes — some of whom may have been under 18 — and downloading pornography. The commission said Oxfam GB's investigation into the charges was hampered by a "determination to keep it out of the public eye."
Oxfam says it investigated the allegations in 2011. The charity confirmed it had dismissed four people and allowed three others to resign in the case after an investigation uncovered offenses including sexual misconduct, bullying, intimidation and failure to protect staff.
Oxfam had said it had reported the results of its investigation to Britain's charity regulator and to major donors, including the Department for International Development. But the regulator slammed Oxfam GB's reporting as being neither full nor frank enough.
The inquiry concluded that Oxfam GB had made significant progress in improving weaknesses in its safeguarding, but demanded more cultural and systemic change to fulling address failings.
Oxfam apologized Tuesday for sexual exploitation in Haiti and its flawed investigation.
"It was a terrible abuse of power, and an affront to the values that Oxfam holds dear," said Caroline Thomson, Oxfam GB's chair of trustees. "The commission's findings are very uncomfortable for Oxfam GB but we accept them."
But the problem went beyond Oxfam GB, with reports of dozens of other cases of sex abuse by people working for charities.
Penny Mordaunt, who was Britain's top development official at the time the revelations emerged, warned that sex predators were targeting aid organizations because of the chaotic environments in which they work. She and other aid officials threatened to pull public funding from Oxfam unless it came clean about a sexual misconduct scandal in Haiti
"It would be a mistake to see this as an issue involving one organization alone," said Stephen Twigg, chairman of the International Development Committee. "The sector as a whole has a clear duty to face up to the challenge of ensuring that such serious wrongdoing is prevented and rooted out, and that it has robust safeguarding measures in place to support victims, survivors and whistleblowers in coming forward."