LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Bullying and elitism within global aid charity Oxfam have created “toxic” work environments and enabled sexual harassment by staff, an independent commission has found.
Many workers said they had faced entrenched elitism, sexism and racism, while problem staff members were often not held accountable for their actions, found the interim report released this week.
“There is still a lot to do in terms of building trust within the organization,” Shannon Mouillesseaux, one of the commissioners, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Oxfam said it was making changes to clamp down on misconduct and would act on the report’s recommendations.
“It is painfully clear that Oxfam is not immune from sexual and other forms of abuse that stem from the abuse of power,” Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam’s international executive director, said in a statement.
“To those who have experienced such unacceptable behavior: we are sorry, I am sorry, and we will follow up on any cases passed to us by the Commission as a matter of urgency.”
Oxfam was embroiled in a scandal when it emerged last February that its staff used prostitutes during a relief mission in Haiti, sparking a wider scandal over sexual harassment and abuse in the charity sector.
It appointed the independent commission to review the charity’s practices and culture in response to the Haiti revelations and is also conducting its own action plan to improve its culture and safeguarding.
The commission said Oxfam was not the only charity to face issues over sexual harassment and other misconduct, but its investigation had revealed significant problems remained.
Workers described elitist behavior and bullying in many offices, while “drastic inconsistencies” in handling safeguarding issues meant complaints were not always properly acted on, it said.
Former victims and whistleblowers said they had faced a lack of accountability when raising complaints, with some saying they had been effectively pushed out of the organization.
The commission said work was needed to build trust with staff and recommended changes including action to create a single unified safeguarding system and to diversify the charity’s leadership.
Sexual misconduct claims at Oxfam have sharply risen since the Haiti scandal, reaching 155 in the 2017-18 financial year compared to 87 in the year previously.
Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org