Oxfam's Deputy Chief Executive Penny Lawrence has resigned as the British charity organization fails to deal with recent sex misconduct allegations against former employees in Haiti and Chad.
"As program director at the time, I am ashamed that this happened on my watch and I take full responsibility," said Lawrence.
A recent investigation by London's The Times revealed Oxfam had failed to inform employers about the sexual misconduct of its former employees during its 2011 earthquake-relief mission in Haiti. Just as the claims surfaced, the charity was accused of similar misconducts in Chad during 2006.
Oxfam allowed Roland van Hauwermeiren to resign as director of its earthquake relief mission in Haiti after news spread about sex parties he used to organize with other employees, hiring local prostitutes. Some of them allegedly underage. At the moment, the charity organization fired some of the mission members and allowed others to resign.
Later, French organization Action Against Hunger contacted Oxfam for a pre-employment check on van Hauwermeiren, but didn't warn them about the reasons of his resignation. They even claimed to get positive references from van Hauwermeiren's co-workers. He then became head of its mission in Bangladesh in 2014.
Regarding these cover-up accusations, Oxfam responded saying they have not and would not “provide a positive reference for any of those who were dismissed or resigned as a result of the Haiti case,” adding that "nobody engaged in such reprehensible behavior should work with vulnerable communities.”
They claim they took the necessary measures at the time and recognize “there is clearly more that can and should be done to ensure that individuals who are found to be guilty of sexual misconduct do not continue to find work in the sector.”
“While we can’t corroborate the information from Chad at the moment, it highlights again unacceptable behavior by a small number of people and the need for a sector-wide approach to tackle the problem,” declared Oxfam in a recent press release.
The allegations represent a critical issue for Oxfam, an organization that claims to fight for human rights around the world.
“This was a case of a group of privileged men abusing those they were meant to protect,” Oxfam said.
The organization explained that the 2011 Haiti case resulted in the creation of a “dedicated Safeguarding Team, a confidential whistleblowing line and more comprehensive policies.” They claim they are taking the necessary measures to ensure this won't happen again and for those responsible to be punished in order to regain society's trust.
“We hope we can rebuild the trust of our supporters who know, as we do, that the actions of a few do not represent all that Oxfam stands for,” the charity wrote at the end of one of its recent press releases.
Now, Penny Mordaunt, the British minister from the Conservative Party in charge of the aid budget, is threatening to withdraw the government's funding to Oxfam unless they hand in the full facts about the events in Haiti and Chad.
Mordaunt met Monday with Oxfam's senior managers, but the outcome was not made public. She is in charge of the Department for International Development, or DFID.
Priti Patel, a British member of Parliament representing the Conservative Party, has also suggested Oxfam should stop receiving British financial support. “This was in the public interest and, once again, this was U.K. taxpayers’ money that was used in a most inappropriate way.”
Patel has declared she was well aware of the 120 sexual abuse scandals in the aid sector involving about 300 people. She carried out an investigation at the DFID, the institution in charge of the aid budget, when she was in charge of it.
“I knew this was going on … I made this our own agenda, I did my research, this is well documented. The tragedy is there has been no international leadership on this whatever,” Patel told the BBC.
Patel resigned as Secretary of State for International Development in November 2017 after a scandal regarding unauthorized meetings with Israeli authorities.
In the last year, more than 120 employees of the biggest British charities were accused of sexual abuse.