Oxfam continues to make progress implementing stronger safeguarding policies and driving cultural change

May 13, 2019

Today Oxfam published its fourth quarterly progress report on its 10-Point Action Plan to strengthen Oxfam’s safeguarding policies and practices and transform its working culture. Oxfam continues to make progress implementing stronger safeguarding policies and driving culture change, with staff more aware and challenging of unacceptable behaviours as the organization continues deep and wide-ranging reforms.

Oxfam’s new Standard Operating Procedures are improving the timeliness and consistency of its safeguarding reporting including to donors and authorities. Oxfam country teams are briefing governments, donors and other agencies about new systems and its affiliates are reconfirming their compliance with government and donor standards. In addition, Oxfam has:

  • Agreed a new global Safeguarding Shared Service and single case management system to oversee and deliver safeguarding across the Oxfam confederation;
  • Updated or introduced Child Safeguarding, Protection Against Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, Sexual Diversity and Gender Identity and Ethical Content Gathering policies, and is currently approving new Youth and Digital Safeguarding policies;
  • Driven culture change with an increased budget and new resources across its confederation, and workshops for staff self-reflection, discussion and action;
  • Introduced new roles to address safeguarding and culture change, including an Oxfam International Safeguarding Associate Director;
  • Launched an enhanced staff induction course with a greater focus on behaviours, culture and safeguarding;
  • Introduced a new performance management process that emphasizes how we work as individuals and collectively, rather than primarily what we achieve, and has a focus on accountability;
  • Committed to ensuring that Oxfam’s 2020 Strategic Plan and ways of working are grounded in feminist principles and equality.

The Independent Commission that Oxfam set up in March 2018 to review its culture and safeguarding will publish its final report next month after commissioners visited country programs in the past three months (nine countries in total since its inception) and reviewed findings of both an expert case management investigation and a new community research project.

Oxfam ran its own Staff Culture Survey, answered by nearly 4000 colleagues. This is intended to open up honest discussion and self-reflection about culture change. It will help to deepen Oxfam’s understanding of all the serious factors that contribute to staff having problems with work-life balance and well-being, speaking out in work settings and experiencing lack of accountability. It revealed:

  • There is not a single simple truth about how staff experience Oxfam culture, but many different experiences. Most staff say they feel safe to report safeguarding issues through formal reporting mechanisms and discussing difficult issues with their manager.
  • While only a minority of staff have negative experiences, there are too many, and it is vital that Oxfam keeps working to improve. When staff have a negative experience, they said it is most likely to be related to hierarchy, gender, control of resources and race.

In its second disclosure of safeguarding data, as part of its commitment to transparency, Oxfam reports in the past year (April 2018-March 2019) there were 294 cases reported – 221 were closed and 73 remain open. This number has risen significantly compared to last year, which shows that people – particularly staff – have a greater understanding of their rights and greater trust in Oxfam’s improved systems. Oxfam expects case numbers to continue to rise, with a greater proportion coming from partners and community members, as their understanding of their rights improves, and their trust in Oxfam’s systems increases. More information about closed cases can be found in the 10-Point Action Plan update.

Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said, “Oxfam is becoming a different organization today as a result of our 10-Point Action Plan – as we must. We have underpinned our unconditional apologies for the specific mistakes we made in Haiti in 2011 with real action. We’re determined to learn, cooperate and improve and I believe we’re beginning to see the tangible results on the long journey that we’re on.

“We have so much more to do. That Oxfam staff now have a fundamentally deeper appreciation of what is acceptable behaviour and what is not, and more trust in the new processes that we have in challenging it, is progress. We have an enhanced framework of stronger safeguarding policies to better help protect people. We’re humbly reaching out to experts and allies, sharing information and lessons. We are conducting open, honest reflections about safer, stronger working cultures and how to help ensure that all staff are living the values to which we aspire.

“Changing culture is a permanent journey of understanding, self-reflection and transformations, the subtle and the profound ideas and norms that shape our daily lives. This has been neglected for too long. Changing it takes time and humility, and I applaud our staff who are driving this transformation. Day by day, even as we get that little bit stronger, we learn new, difficult lessons. Day by day, we are more open and eager to keep improving,” Byanyima said.

Oxfam has previously published three progress reports against its 10-Point Action Plan:

  • In January 2019, explaining its increase in the number of staff safeguarding experts in its teams; tripling the amount it will spend on gender justice programming; and new tools and plans to help partners to improve their own safeguarding;
  • In October 2018, explaining its new safeguarding policies and practices; its first six-monthly disclosure of safeguarding data; and further improvements to the ways people can report concerns;
  • In July 2018, updating on the Independent Commission’s work; training 119 new safeguarding investigators; a $3M investment in safeguarding across Oxfam globally; new multi-language whistle-blowing hot-lines and other new practices.

The full 10-Point Action Plan update can be found here.

Notes to editors:

Oxfam offers support to survivors from the moment an incident is reported, during the investigation and once it is concluded. This support can include counselling, health care and legal support.

Contact information:

Paula Baker
Media Relations
Oxfam Canada
(613) 240-3047

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