Oxfam’s commitment to learning, accountability and change

by Julie Delahanty | June 12, 2019
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Caroline Leal | Oxfam Canada

In my five years as Oxfam Canada’s Executive Director, I’ve been lucky to meet many people around the world whose lives have been transformed through the support they have received from Oxfam. Support that helps them to claim their rights and fight inequality.

I’m incredibly proud of the work we do – from our life-saving relief efforts in times of humanitarian crisis to our long-term development programs and advocacy – our teams are out there, on the ground, tackling the injustice of poverty and inequality every day.

It is extremely important for me to ensure that you remain regularly updated on Oxfam’s progress in strengthening policies and practices regarding the handling of sexual abuse and misconduct cases, and transforming our organizational culture.

Following the Haiti scandal that broke in February last year, Oxfam committed to a 10-Point Action Plan to strengthen our safeguarding practices and policies and transform our organizational culture. As part of this, we established an Independent Commission on Sexual Misconduct, Accountability and Culture Change, led by Zainab Bangura, former Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict and Katherine Sierra, former Vice-President of the World Bank. We asked the Commission to take a good, hard look at Oxfam’s policies, practices and culture and share its findings openly and publicly.

Today, the Independent Commission published its final report. We welcome the report’s findings and thank the Commission for many months of hard work. In short, it is the report we asked for, with hard truths and recommendations that build on the change that is already underway and push us even further to become the Oxfam we need to be.

I am grateful to the Commission for acknowledging the important steps we have taken in being publicly committed to change and transparent in our work. Since February 2018, Oxfam has taken the following steps:

  • Revised our Code of Conduct, which has been rolled out across the confederation, including through facilitated discussions with staff to ensure they truly understand what the Code of Conduct means in practice.
  • Implemented mandatory staff training in gender justice, sexual harassment, prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse, and child protection.
  • Stepped up our efforts to strengthen the enabling environment for our staff, our partners and those we serve to use to raise complaints and concerns, and are implementing training on case management that put the best interests and safety of the survivor first.
  • Committed to strengthening our response mechanisms and procedures so that we can safely respond to any safeguarding concerns from the people we serve, the public or from our staff. We have trained staff in safeguarding investigation and have strengthened our whistle-blowing systems.
  • Launched a new “Safe Programming” guide to help ensure all of Oxfam’s humanitarian responses are run in a way that minimizes the likelihood of safeguarding incidents happening.
  • Developed an Oxfam-wide database to register and report on all cases so the entire confederation can be coordinated and the data can be reported twice per year.
  • Tightened our reference checking systems, with appointed staff to formally authorize references in an effort to prevent forged, dishonest or unreliable references.
  • Supported our partners on the ground where we work to improve their own safeguarding policies and practices and help them become safer organizations for their staff and people they serve.
  • Developed at Oxfam Canada, through a collaborative and staff-led process, feminist principles, which guide our approach to our partnerships, humanitarian programming, long-term development work, policy advocacy and campaigns and organizational culture and behavior.

In the months ahead, in addition to deepening our commitment to priorities already underway, we will also:

  • Launch a new “Global Integrity Fund” to help strengthen the safeguarding capacities of local civil society organizations working on the front lines;
  • Boost our own safeguarding capacity and resources in the most fragile and challenging environments in which we operate; and
  • Establish two new global senior leadership roles of Chief Ethics Officer and Culture Lead.

These actions represent important steps in our journey. We are redoubling our efforts to model behaviours consistent with our values in all that we do, and to being an organization that is known for transparency, one that learns from our mistakes, reflects on the culture that allowed them to happen and continuously seeks ways to strengthen our systems to support those we serve.

As the co-chair of the Canadian Council of International Cooperation’s Committee on Preventing and Addressing Sexual Misconduct, as a member of Oxfam International’s Safeguarding Task Force and as a feminist and women’s rights advocate, I have been working with my Oxfam colleagues here in Canada and around the world to ensure that we are both reflective and bold in our actions to do better.

I was recently in Bangladesh on a field visit and when I asked community members what they would do if someone was engaging in exploitative or abusive behavior, they answered with ease the process they would follow to speak up. Hearing their quick replies gave me greater confidence that the work we have done is making a difference and people know what to do and feel safer to come forward to report issues.

At Oxfam Canada, as an organization that puts women’s rights at the heart of everything it does, we also recognize the importance of addressing the unequal power dynamics that leave women vulnerable to exploitation and abuse in the first place. That is why while investing in our internal policies and organizational change, we will continue to build on the best of our work to support women’s leadership around the world, combat attitudes that tolerate violence against women and girls and ensure that women can escape the poverty and conflict that make them vulnerable.

There is more to be done, and we won’t let up on this journey. But today, I also want to recognize that we are a different organization than we were a year ago, and in another year, we’ll be a different one than we are today. Still deeply rooted in our mission to end the injustice of poverty and inequality, but with even more clarity and humility about the path we must take to achieve that goal. This is the beauty of embracing change and not fighting it.

Thank you again for joining us on this journey.

In solidarity,

Julie Delahanty
Executive Director

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