International Development Committee to quiz Oxfam bosses

Oxfam CEO Mark Goldring and chair Caroline Thomson leave the Department for International Development after a meeting on 12 February 2018Image copyright EPA
Image caption Oxfam’s chief executive Mark Goldring and chair of trustees Caroline Thomson will be questioned by MPs

Senior Oxfam executives are to appear before MPs amid criticism over the way it handled claims of sexual misconduct by its staff in Haiti.

The International Development Committee will question the charity’s chief Mark Goldring and chair of trustees Caroline Thomson, about safeguarding policies.

Representatives from Save the Children and the Department for International Development will also be quizzed.

Oxfam has apologised to Haiti at a meeting with its minister of planning.

Earlier this month, the Times newspaper published allegations that Oxfam aid workers in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake had used prostitutes. Oxfam denied a cover-up but its handling of the scandal is being investigated by the Charity Commission.

MPs on the international development committee have convened an urgent session to investigate the crisis.

They will also ask Save the Children’s chief Kevin Watkins about his charity’s response to the issues raised.

DfID’s Permanent Secretary Matthew Rycroft will tell the committee about the department’s knowledge of the situation.

Oxfam’s chief executive, Mark Goldring, told the Guardian newspaper on Saturday that the scale and intensity of the criticism against his organisation in the wake of claims its workers used prostitutes in Haiti was out of proportion to its level of culpability.

‘Problem staff’

On Monday, Oxfam – which has almost 10,000 staff working in more than 90 countries – released a redacted version of its internal report on alleged abuse by some of its staff in Haiti, saying it wants to be “as transparent as possible” about the decisions it made.

It revealed that three of the men accused of sexual misconduct in Haiti physically threatened witnesses during a 2011 investigation.

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Oxfam also said “more needed” to be done to prevent “problem staff” working for other charities.

However, the charity presented the original, unedited report to the government in Haiti on Monday.

Speaking after the meeting with Haitian minister Aviol Fleurant, Simon Ticehurst, Oxfam regional director for Latin America, said the charity would be starting “the long road ahead of re-establishing trust and partnership, given our 40-year history with Haiti and its citizens.

“We stand ready to engage with the Haitian people and have expressed our openness to co-operate as much as required with the Haitian government.”

Image copyright VRT
Image caption Mr Van Hauwermeiren worked in Chad from 2006-09 before going to Haiti in 2010

In the report, the charity said director of operations in Haiti, Roland Van Hauwermeiren, “admitted using prostitutes” at his Oxfam residence when questioned by the investigation team.

Mr Van Hauwermeiren last week denied paying prostitutes for sex.

He was granted a “phased and dignified exit” and was allowed to resign, the report added, on the provision that he fully co-operated with the rest of the investigation.

It is not known if he is one of the suspects accused of threatening witnesses.

The 2011 report also called for tighter safeguarding across the industry to stop disgraced aid workers moving to new posts.

Despite the warning, several of those implicated subsequently worked for other aid organisations, including at Oxfam.

Oxfam says it will set up a commission to investigate past and present allegations of exploitation by staff.

Meanwhile, ministers have said Oxfam has agreed to stop bidding for UK government funding until it can show it meets the “high standards” required.

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