The Haiti revelations have reminded Oxfam and the aid sector of the need to be vigilant around consistently improving processes to keep people safe, Oxfam Australia said today.
“It goes without saying that we at Oxfam Australia continue to be as appalled by these revelations as the rest of the world,” Oxfam Australia’s Chief Executive Helen Szoke said.
“This is a time to be reminded of the responsibilities of the aid community and the immense trust put in us. If there are well-founded criticisms, then these have to be confronted.
“We have to take on board all of this criticism because the responsibility we have for the communities for whom we work is profound, and we should never take that for granted.”
Dr Szoke said that since 2011, Oxfams had banded together to strengthen ‘safeguards’ – ie. policies and procedures to keep people safe from harm – including a dedicated Safeguarding team, a confidential whistleblowing service and more comprehensive policies and practices for protecting people and empowering victims and witnesses of abuse to speak up.
At Oxfam Australia, strong child protection practices had been in place for a long time, including recent work on deepening the agency’s practice in this area. Prior to the Haiti revelations last week, Oxfam Australia had already put in place a nine-strong Safeguarding taskforce and a whistleblower service as part of a comprehensive package of protection and safeguarding mechanisms used at every stage – from prevention of incidents to response and caring for people who raise issues.
“Over past years we’ve been consistently improving these processes in order to help ensure people who work at Oxfam or work with Oxfam are safe, but this past week has been a stark reminder that we need to redouble our efforts and continue to hold ourselves to the highest possible standards,” Dr Szoke said.
“We are absolutely up for this challenge. Unfortunately, Oxfam, like the rest of our society, is not immune from incidences of sexual misconduct.
“What’s critical is the process we as an organisation take when these instances occur.”
She said globally Oxfam was keen to work with the rest of the sector to overcome the barriers that had so far prevented the sharing of intelligence among NGOs and other organisations about people who have been found guilty of sexual misconduct.
“This is a time for bold approaches, not complacency,” Dr Szoke said.
“We must look at this time as an opportunity to scrutinise our existing processes and strengthen them even further because we have an incredible responsibility to the communities we serve.
“I can assure you we don’t take that responsibility lightly.”
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