Oxfam welcomes interim report of Independent Commission on safeguarding

General, Media Releases article written on the 16 Jan 2019

Oxfam International welcomes the publication of the Independent Commission’s interim report as an important step that will help it tackle the root causes of abuse, including issues arising from power imbalances within its confederation.

The report is published today as Oxfam sets out further progress towards its Ten-Point Plan, announced in February 2018, of which the Commission is part. Oxfam thanks the Commission for holding it to the high standards it expects of itself and says its report will be a catalyst for further improvements.

Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam International Executive Director, said: “We set up the Commission to ask the hard questions of our culture and practice. This is an important piece of work at a crucial time for us. We will use its emerging recommendations to bolster our ongoing improvements so that we truly have “zero tolerance” to anyone who would abuse their power over others.”

The report criticises Oxfam for focusing too much on what it does at the expense of how it does it.

“It is painfully clear that Oxfam is not immune from sexual and other forms of abuse that stem from the abuse of power. To those who have experienced such unacceptable behaviour: 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,” Ms Byanyima said.

“As a global organisation that campaigns to improve the lives of women around the world, we are determined to be accountable to ourselves and to others for the highest standards. The vast majority of our work is done with respect and in safety and delivered with great impact for people living in poverty, but we know we still need to do much more to improve ourselves.”

Among other initiatives and improvements that Oxfam is showing in its latest quarterly progress report published today:

  • Oxfam has increased the number of staff safeguarding experts across its confederation in the past year, which includes 15 extra staff in recent months, complementing Country Safeguarding Focal Points in all program countries, who will be fully trained by March 2019. They are helping to deliver faster, higher-quality and more consistent work in prevention and awareness of sexual misconduct, along with better management of cases when they do arise.
  • Oxfam commits to nearly triple the amount it spends on its gender justice programming worldwide from 5.3 per cent of its budget to 15 per cent, or more than € 54 million (AUD $86 million).
  • Stronger Oxfam-wide policies and practises now rolled out, including in “safer recruitment”, a new Standard Operating Procedure for Reporting Misconduct including to all authorities and donors, on the Prevention of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, and on Child Protection, among others. Oxfam now has a central referencing system so that all staff references will refer to findings of gross misconduct, including sexual abuse, where it is lawful to do so.
  • In December 2018, Oxfam staff designed and ran an internal culture survey, which more than 3,000 colleagues around the world have completed, the results of which will be used to spark honest informed conversations to drive deeper improvements.
  • Developed a new Partnership Approach and Assessment Tool to support our partners to improve their own safeguarding policies and practices and help them become safer organisations for their staff and the people they serve. This also allows Oxfam and its partners to assess each other.
  • A new “Safe Programming” guide to help ensure all Oxfam’s humanitarian responses are run in a way that minimises the likelihood of safeguarding incidents happening. This is being adapted by our program teams to guide safer long-term development programs, too.

“I thank our staff and partners for the significant improvements they are helping to drive in our policies and culture. I and Oxfam’s other senior leaders are acutely aware of our responsibilities to ensure that our vital work helping more than 22 million people around the world takes place in a safe and respectful environment,” Ms Byanyima said.

“This latest Progress Report of our Ten-Point Plan contains much about the added investments we are making in new collective safeguarding policies, in training, in new staff and stronger procedures, and in honest examination of our culture. It shows that Oxfam affiliates are helping to drive many sector-wide improvements in their own countries, including with peers and governments, and via our own campaigns that are now highly-focused around gender justice.

“I think that Oxfam must continue to be open about our own failings and determined to change our own culture and practices, and if by doing that we can help others along the way, the difficult changes we are making of ourselves will be doubly worth it.”

For interviews or more information, please contact Dylan Quinnell on 0450 668 350 or dylanq@oxfam.org.au

Notes to editors

Oxfam Australia has taken a number of additional steps to tackle the types of issues raised in the Independent Commission’s Interim Report.

In late 2018, Oxfam Australia participated in an independent review run by the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine that aimed to ensure member organisations of the Australian Council for International Development understood and applied global best practice in the identification, response and prevention of sexual misconduct. Of the 19 recommendations made for ACFID member organisations, Oxfam Australia has implemented 12 and we are on track to meet the remainder by April, 2019.

Oxfam Australia runs mandatory training sessions for staff; including face to face training on Diversity Inclusion and Domestic Violence Bystander Training and an online Harassment Free Workplaces course. Globally Oxfam also offers the online courses, including Gender Justice at Oxfam, Gender and Power and Safeguarding Awareness.

Oxfam Australia is working with other organisations in the sector, like Red Cross, to explore ways in which technology can enable transparent, non-corruptible background checks.

In Oxfam Australia a team of 11 people from across the organisation (including People & Culture (HR), fundraising and programs) have responsibility for various aspects of safeguarding and organisational culture.