What’s the story?
The UK Government has said it will review its £32 million annual funding of Oxfam, after the charity became embroiled in a sexual misconduct scandal. A journalistic investigation by The Times revealed that several of its aid workers used prostitutes in Haiti, in the immediate aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.
They were meant to be the saviours of Haiti, sent in to rebuild the stricken nation after its devastating 2010 earthquake. Instead, some of Oxfam’s staff used their presence on the island, recently bereaved of thousands of its people, as an opportunity to visit local prostitutes. While the charity had publicly admitted at the time that some of its staff had been guilty of misconduct, the nature of those offences had never been disclosed. Now a major newspaper investigation has shed light on the truth, causing public and government confidence in the relief and development giant to plummet.
It’s a scandal which has rocked one of the world’s biggest International development charities, and threatens to cast a shadow of suspicion over an entire sector traditionally seen as positive and altruistic. Already several members of the organisation’s staff have either been fired or allowed to resign, and as public pressure mounts, it’s likely that Oxfam will be profoundly damaged by the affair.
At the centre of the allegations is Roland Van Hauwermeiren, Oxfam’s then-country director for Haiti, who according to The Times was visited by prostitutes in a villa rented for him by the charity. Van Hauwermeiren was allowed to resign from his role when sexual misconduct was first uncovered in 2011, but then went on to work elsewhere in the sector after his next employer failed to ask Oxfam for a reference. He was one of several staff who took advantage of their presence on the island to use cheaply-available local prostitutes, at the very time that they were being funded by the world to bring hope and relief to the stricken country.
In the wake of the revelations, Oxfam is now continually in the headlines, with new dimensions to the story emerging daily. Senior managers within the organisation have resigned, celebrities have withdrawn their support, and perhaps most worryingly, many financial supporters have done likewise. Oxfam generally have about 600 direct debit instructions cancelled per month; they saw well over 1,000 people cancelling their agreements in the three days following the initial wave of newspaper articles.
Now the UK government is reviewing its annual £32 million funding commitment to Oxfam, with International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt saying that the charity must give full account of how it handled the original misconduct claims. The organisation, which now has a new Chief Executive and Chair of Trustees, has announced a series of changes to its working practices to prevent the same thing ever happening again. The question is: can it rebuild the public’s – and the government’s – broken trust?
What have others been saying?
Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr, International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt said that Oxfam had failed in its “moral leadership.”
Charity leadership expert David Brindle wrote in The Guardian that the scandal could have far-reaching implications for the entire charity sector, meaning many people could choose not to give to Oxfam – or any other charity as a result of the sense of broken trust.
Jonathan Langley wrote a compelling plea to Christians not to stop supporting Oxfam in the wake of the revelations.
Oxfam has announced a string of measures to ensure the Haiti scandal is never repeated.
#1 – TRUST
The Haiti scandal has led to a breakdown of trust between Oxfam and its supporters. The bible often reminds us that ultimately, the only person who is completely trustworthy is God (“Trust in the LORD with all of your heart, and lean not on your own understanding”, Proverbs 3:5). But it also encourages us to be trustworthy, reliable people: Jesus tells his disciples “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’” (Matthew 5:37), while Paul encourages the Colossians “do not lie to each other” (Colossians 3:9), because this is an indicator of the new life they have in Christ. Jesus reserved some of his harshest words for hypocritical Pharisees who did not live up to their word; trustworthiness is a foundational principle of the Kingdom of God.
#2 – “NOTHING WILL REMAIN HIDDEN”
Perhaps the greatest sense of outrage has not been felt at the actions of those who actually used prostitutes in Haiti in 2011, but of those who apparently sought to cover this behaviour up. In Luke, we see Jesus using almost the exact same phrase twice to describe the eternal perspective on anyone who would seek to deceive the world about their deeds. In Luke 12: 2-3 (an echo of Luke 8 v 17), he says “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.” Jesus is warning that in the end, all secrets will be revealed, but perhaps he is also warning that it’s on God’s agenda to expose hypocrisy on earth, and not just in heaven.
Points for prayer
Pray for the many people and projects around the world who rely on funding from Oxfam, and who may now be facing financial shortfall or difficulty as a knock-on effect of the scandal.
Pray for Oxfam’s senior leadership, that they would be able to root out the systems and individuals who have allowed these serious issues of misconduct to take place.
Pray for other charities that may see their own funding dip as a knock-on effect of the scandal.
Pray for the women in Haiti who are likely to have been forced into prostitution through poverty. Pray that they would be able to leave the sex industry behind.
Pray that any others who have abused positions of trust in this way would have their actions uncovered and face justice as a result.
Martin Saunders is Youthscape’s Deputy Chief Executive. A former editor of Youthwork magazine and the founding Editor of sister-title Childrenswork, Martin is a popular speaker and the author of various books including ‘Youth Work From Scratch’. He lives in Reigate, Surrey with his wife Jo and their four children.