The British Government is reviewing its relationship with Oxfam in the wake of sex allegations against some of the charity’s staff.
The UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) took the decision after the charity denied claims it had covered up the use of prostitutes by aid workers in Haiti. Oxfam said it had publicly announced an investigation into the allegations when they surfaced in 2011 and kept the Charity Commission informed.
It comes amid fresh reports in The Times that Oxfam did not tell other aid agencies about the behaviour of staff involved in the investigation after they left to work elsewhere.
A DfID spokesman said: “We often work with organisations in chaotic and difficult circumstances.
“If wrongdoing, abuse, fraud, or criminal activity occur we need to know about it immediately, in full.
“The way this appalling abuse of vulnerable people was dealt with raises serious questions that Oxfam must answer.
“We acknowledge that hundreds of Oxfam staff have done no wrong and work tirelessly for the people they serve, but the handling by the senior team about this investigation and their openness with us and the Charity Commission showed a lack of judgment.
“We have a zero tolerance policy for the type of activity that took place in this instance, and we expect our partners to as well. “The Secretary of State is reviewing our current work with Oxfam and has requested a meeting with the senior team at the earliest opportunity.”
Oxfam said in a statement: “The behaviour of some members of Oxfam staff uncovered in Haiti in 2011 was totally unacceptable, contrary to our values and the high standards we expect of our staff. “As soon as we became aware of the allegations, we immediately launched an internal investigation.
“Our primary aim was always to root out and take action against those involved, and we publicly announced, including to media, both the investigation and the action we took as a result.” Four members of staff were dismissed and three, including the country director, resigned before the end of the investigation, Oxfam said.
The charity added that the UK’s Charity Commission was aware the investigation related to “inappropriate sexual behaviour” and confirmed that it had taken “appropriate action”. The revelations have been condemned by former international development secretaries.
Priti Patel told the Daily Telegraph: “There should be prosecutions and appropriate action against everyone complicit in this. “I think taxpayers will be appalled aid money may have been used in such an awful way.”
Andrew Mitchell, who served between 2010 and 2012, told the BBC: “This is a shudderingly awful tale.
“Terrible on every single level. DfID must be sure that there is zero tolerance for this sort of thing.”
Oxfam chief executive Mark Goldring told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that any references given to staff involved in the scandal, who later found other jobs, had not been officially sanctioned.
He said: “When the staff involved resigned in 2011, all were fired, Oxfam was very clear that we would not give them references. We recorded that on our own system, and we wrote to all of our offices across the world.
“But, there is a real difference between an organisation giving a reference and individuals that have previously worked for an organisation giving references in individual capacities, and that’s what we believe will have happened.”
Mr Goldring denied a cover-up, he said: “With hindsight, I would much prefer that we had talked about sexual misconduct, but I don’t think it was in anyone’s best interest to be describing the details of the behaviour in a way that was was actually going to draw extreme attention to it.”