Posted by Jacqui Lazare, Solicitor
Oxfam scandal – a lesson to be learned?
The UK’s charity sector is under close scrutiny, both nationally and internationally, following allegations that Oxfam workers were involved in the hiring of prostitutes and engaged in sex parties whilst working on earthquake relief projects in Haiti and a humanitarian mission in Chad. But what can the sector learn from these events going forward?
How will this affect Oxfam?
As well as some aid workers facing possible criminal prosecution, Oxfam have already been hit by over 1,000 cancelled donations, have lost charity ambassadors and also face losing up to £29 million in European funding as a result of its handling of sexual misconduct by staff in Haiti and Chad. This week the Charity Commission has launched a statutory inquiry into the charity as a result of the allegations. The inquiry is likely to lead to an extensive report from the Commission which will, inevitably, comment on current policies, particularly in relation to safeguarding culture and practices. This should act as a word of warning to charities and their trustees who should ensure that such policies are in place and, perhaps more importantly, actually being adhered to.
What can charities do?
The Charity Commission has a duty to promote public trust and confidence in charities. As part of that duty, the Commission expect charities to have adequate safeguarding policies in place, whether or not those charities work with groups of people traditionally considered ‘at risk’, and for charity trustees to proactively safeguard and promote the welfare of their charity’s beneficiaries. The policies themselves will depend on the nature and circumstances of the charity’s work and such governance should be reviewed regularly.
In addition to the implementation and action of safeguarding policies, a charity’s response to allegations or concerns is just as crucial. It is vital that charities embrace a culture in which safeguarding is prioritised and those affected (whether charity staff or beneficiaries) feel able and assured that their concerns will be dealt with sensitively and thoroughly. Charities must declare any problems relating to their safeguarding duties to the regulator and the relevant authorities, and policies must include full, frank and transparent disclosure of any issues.
In conjunction with the Department for International Development, the Charity Commission will be calling in key international aid charities to summit on safeguarding in the coming weeks. We will be interested to see what the outcome of the summit is likely to include, and the potential impact on the sector moving forward.
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