Oxfam Exec Resigns Amid Exploitation Accusations

Allegations of staff sexual misconduct in Haiti has resulted in the resignation of Penny Lawrence, deputy chief executive of Oxfam Great Britain. The resignation comes after reports that charity staff paid for sex with Haitians in 2011, following the earthquake that tore through the country.

In addition to allegations of sexual exploitation in Haiti in 2011, accusations have been made that some staff used sex workers in Chad in 2006, according to an organizational video message by Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International.

“Over the last few days, we have become aware that concerns were raised about the behaviour of staff in Chad, as well as Haiti, that we failed to adequately act upon,” Lawrence said in a statement in The Guardian. “It is now clear that these allegations – involving the use of prostitutes and which related to behaviour of both the country director and members of his team in Chad – were raised before he moved to Haiti. As programme director at the time, I am ashamed that this happened on my watch and I take full responsibility.”

Oxfam Great Britain, in a release, described the incident as “totally unacceptable” and disclosed that four staffers were dismissed as a result and three others resigned prior to the conclusion of an internal investigation. Allegations that underage girls might have been involved were not substantiated, per the release.

Oxfam Great Britain was the managing affiliate in Haiti at the time of the alleged events, Abby Maxman, president of Oxfam America, said in a blog post. Organization trustees, the UK Charity Commission, the UK’s Department of Internal Development, World Health Organization, European Union, United Nations agencies, and media were all kept up to date at the time of the investigation, according to Maxman. Oxfam has since established a Safeguarding Task Force, co-headed by Byanyima and Maxman, as a mechanism of reporting misconduct within the organization.

Reached for comment, an Oxfam representative told The NonProfit Times that preventative measures also include a confidential “whistleblowing” line available to all organizational staff and individuals work with the organization. Caroline Thomson, chair of trustees for Oxfam Great Britain, announced additional safeguarding measures over the weekend including strengthening staff vetting and recruitment procedures; overhauling staff onboarding to include organizational values, conduct, and safeguard training; and collaboration with other sector leaders to overcoming legal obstacles currently in place in sharing intelligence about individuals that have been found guilty of sexual misconduct.

Information relating to further resignations, dismissals, or other consequences and how alleged victims in Chad and Haiti have been supported was not immediately available, but might become available in the near future, according to the representative.

In her video message, Byanyima highlighted measures such as the whistleblowing line and said that the 2011 investigation would not satisfy existing standards since put in place. Making sure that women’s rights are high priorities requires efforts in leadership and women in leadership roles, she said. Fifteen of Oxfam’s 22 executive directors are women, as well as five of seven regional directors.

“Our priority now is to stand alongside the women who were abused, and it is root out sexual misconduct from our organization and we are working on that,” said Byanyima.