Oxfam welcomes Independent Commission’s recommendations and commits to deepen culture change and safeguarding improvements

General, Media Releases article written on the 12 Jun 2019

Oxfam welcomes the final report of the Independent Commission on Sexual Misconduct, Accountability and Culture Change.

“This is exactly the report we asked for following incidents of sexual misconduct of Oxfam Great Britain staff in Haiti that came to light last year,” Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said.

“We set up the Independent Commission to tell us hard truths about our organisation, and to be clear about where and how we can improve.  Oxfam accepts the report’s findings and we welcome its recommendations.”

At the same time as finding weaknesses, the Commission recognised the progress that had been made by Oxfam to strengthen its approach to safeguarding and the organisation’s ‘tremendous will, energy and commitment to reform’.

Since February 2018, the Commission notes that Oxfam has taken important steps, including but not limited to new confederation wide prevention of sexual misconduct and child protection policies, standard operating procedures for reporting misconduct and a single Oxfam-wide safeguarding network.

The report notes that Oxfam also recently developed its first survivor supporter guidelines and is working together with partners to build their capacity to address and prevent misconduct.

In addition, Oxfam has strengthened its annual performance review approach to ensure that all staff support its values, code of conduct and leadership expectations.

These changes form part of the improvements that Oxfam has been making under its Ten Point Action Plan – launched in February 2018 – to transform its working culture and strengthen its global safeguarding systems.

“I thank the Commission for recognising and valuing the important changes we have already made. They have rightly said we must now be courageous in delivering further reform.  I could not agree more,” Ms Byanyima said.

“I want to humbly apologise to all of the staff and community members who have been harmed by Oxfam, its people; its leaders; its culture.

“We are moving quickly in changing our workplace culture and will continue to implement all of the recommendations of the Commission.”

Additional actions that Oxfam is planning include mobilising a new Global Integrity Fund to help strengthen safeguarding work of local civil society organisations, boosting its own safeguarding capacity and resources in the most fragile and challenging environments in which it operates, and establishing two new global senior leadership roles of Chief Ethics Officer and Culture Lead.

The report described Oxfam’s 10,000 worldwide staff as its ‘greatest asset’ and noted that they are ‘eager to contribute to building a safer Oxfam’.

“I am constantly humbled by the sheer dedication of my colleagues, whose tireless work to combat global poverty and inequality is recognised in the report,” Ms Byanyima said.

“The Independent Commission has urged our sector to redouble its commitment in this area, and we are ready to play our part.”

Oxfam Australia Chief Executive Helen Szoke said Oxfam would not shy away from the report’s findings.

“We welcome anything that unearths ways we can better tackle the issue of sexual misconduct and improve the culture within our organisation, as we have absolutely zero tolerance for those who abuse their power and harm the people we are trying to help,” Dr Szoke said.

Oxfam Australia has a team of 11 people from across the organisation responsible for various aspects of safeguarding and organisational culture.

“We run a suite of courses to ensure staff understand what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour when working for Oxfam – from bullying to sexual harassment – and inform people how they can safely and securely alert us when they experience or witness sexual harassment or other misconduct, and what we will do to act on concerns that are reported,” Dr Szoke said.

Oxfam Australia has ‘safeguarding focal points’ in all country offices – trained staff who offer advice and to whom misconduct can be reported.

There’s a stronger system in place for providing and checking references and trying to ensure that Oxfam references are not given to offenders seeking jobs elsewhere.

“Unfortunately, the aid sector is not immune to the issue of sexual misconduct, which we know is about misuse of power,” Dr Szoke said.

“We’re continuing to better understand this abuse of power and improve how we tackle this issue as time goes on.

“We know Australians and the Government place enormous trust in us, and the work we do to tackle poverty; it’s a responsibility we do not take lightly, and we will continue to work hard to rebuild this trust.”

To report misconduct, click here.

For further information, please contact Laurelle Keough – 0425 701 801 or laurellek@oxfam.org.au

Notes to Editors:

Oxfam set up the Independent Commission in Feb 2018 and gave it a full mandate – independently and publicly – to investigate its work and highlight what more Oxfam needed to do.

The Commission was joined by eminent human rights leaders, including a former Women’s Minister in Haiti and a global expert on Sexual Violence in Conflict.


Read more about the action Oxfam has taken to improve safeguarding policies and practices and to transform our organisational culture.