By Jada Grisson
The prominent British charity Oxfam apologized in a statement on Feb. 12 in response to allegations of sexual misconduct and prostitution within its Haitian unit, centered on events following the earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010, according to The Washington Post.
In 2011, Oxfam as one of the humanitarian organizations with a presence in Haiti following the destruction of the earthquake. Though Oxfam admitted in September 2011 that staff members had left the organization due to allegations of misconduct, it did not confirm whether the misconduct was of a sexual nature, according to The Times.
Further investigation into Oxfam’s report revealed Oxfam’s Chief Official for Haitian Relief, Roland van Hauwermeiren, was involved in the misconduct, according to The New York Times.
Oxfam conducted an internal investigation and issued and a report to the Haitian authorities at the conclusion of the investigation. The details of what was reported as well as the result have not been made transparent by Oxfam, according to The New York Times.
On Feb. 4, Oxfam fired four people, including van Haumwermeiren. Three others resigned, such as Deputy Chief Executive Penney Lawrence, who was the program director at the organization when the alleged offenses took place, according to The Washington Post
According to the results of the internal organization reported by The Times, drivers of Oxfam officials involved would frequently be asked to pick up prostitutes and take them to the official’s homes.
“It cannot be ruled out that any of the prostitutes were underaged,” stated the confidential report Oxfam issued in 2011, according to The Times.
Oxfam is facing severe backlash. In one weekend alone, approximately 1,270 direct debit donations were cancelled as opposed to Oxfam’s average cancellation rate of 600 per month, according to BBC.
A statement, written by Chair of Trustees Caroline Thomson and published by the organization on Feb. 11, apologized for the misconduct and pledged to stop such sexual abuse from happening in the future, according to The Washington Post.
“In the words of our Chief Executive Mark Goldring, we are ashamed of what happened,” wrote Thomson in the statement. “We apologise unreservedly. We have made big improvements since 2011 and today I commit that we will improve further.”
Brand ambassadors also stepped down as allegations came out. Actress and ambassador Minnie Driver was “nothing short of horrified” by the allegations, according to BBC.
Lan Mercado, Oxfam’s regional director in Asia, spoke candidly to BBC about allegations from 2009-2013 involving staff in the Philippines, Bangladesh and Nepal.
“Haiti has taught us we need to do a lot more,” Mercado said. “You know the funny thing about cases like this is that we always see them as reputational risks. But the way to manage reputational risk is not to keep silent … we need to be thinking about the reputation of the sector as a whole.”