I want to address a distressing story you may see in the news describing acts of sexual misconduct carried out by Oxfam UK staff working in Haiti in 2011.
At the time, several Oxfam UK staff were accused of sexual exploitation and abuse during the earthquake response. Their behaviour was totally unacceptable – an appalling mark against the high values we set for ourselves at Oxfam.
This is personally heartbreaking to all of us at Oxfam, as you can imagine. We are angry at what a few privileged men has done. They have betrayed our decades of work on social justice. A few people given positions of trust abused those they were supposed to serve.
As an organization fighting for women’s rights here and around the world, we stand with the women and girls who experienced this exploitation.
As an organization fighting for women’s rights here and around the world, we stand with the women and girls who experienced this exploitation. Oxfam Canada has a special responsibility to protect the people we work with, our partners, our volunteers, and our staff, from sexual harassment, exploitation, and abuse. It is at the core of our shared values. It is why we do the work we do.
I feel enormous pride in the life-changing work that we, thanks to people like you, were able to achieve in Haiti in response to the 2010 earthquake. To the best of our knowledge, no staff or funds from Oxfam Canada were involved in this case. During this time, Oxfam Canada worked with the Oxfam Quebec team in Haiti to deliver our programs. The office was located separately from Oxfam UK’s office and supported Oxfam Quebec’s long-standing local partners.
Here are the facts as I understand them. When the Haiti allegations surfaced in 2011, Oxfam UK responded quickly with an investigation. The aim of their investigation was to root out and take action against those involved. At the time, Oxfam UK announced to the media both the investigation and the action taken as a result and informed key stakeholders. Four members of staff were dismissed and three, including the Country Director, resigned or left the county before the end of the investigation.
Despite these actions, many mistakes were made. The behaviour of the leadership and staff was and is intolerable, deeply reprehensible and unacceptable. We honour those who came forward at that time to bring the issues to light, and we acknowledge the pain suffered by those who were victims of these shameful acts.
Oxfam made big changes following the 2011 Haiti investigation and is now known to have some of the best systems that protect people from abuse in humanitarian crises. We have developed strong policies and oversight, including a dedicated Safeguarding team, and a confidential whistleblowing line. These measures help Oxfam protect people from abuse, sexual harassment and exploitation and prevent it from happening in the first place.
But these measures have not been enough. We need to do more. We are committed to real change in the way we root out and handle cases of sexual harassment, exploitation, and abuse, and to how we support survivors. We recognize that this is a deep-rooted and systemic issue in society and the humanitarian sector. Oxfam’s priority is to stand firmly with those experiencing exploitation and abuse and to ensure that such behaviour is expunged from our organization.
We will work tirelessly to rebuild your trust and the trust of the people we work with.
Julie Delahanty | Executive Director of Oxfam Canada