UK aid chief warns charities after Oxfam sex scandal

LONDON: The international aid sector must take action to end abuses, Britain’s International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt said on Wednesday following a spate of revelations about misconduct at British charity Oxfam.

Mordaunt also warned Britain would not partner with charities that do not hold staff accountable for their actions and are not transparent following allegations of a cover-up of a prostitution scandal at Oxfam.

“This week, horrifying allegations have come to light about the actions of some Oxfam staff in Haiti in 2011,” Mordaunt told the Agenda 2030 children’s welfare conference in Stockholm, according to extracts from her speech published by her ministry.

The scandal led to the resignation of Oxfam’s deputy head and has thrown into question government funding for the charity, which amounted to around £32 million ($44 million, Dh117 million) last year.

“The same message goes out to any organisation or partner which receives UK aid. We want procedures to change. We want leaders to lead with moral authority and we want staff to be held accountable,” she said.

“Unless you report every serious incident or allegation, no matter how damaging to your reputation — we cannot be partners,” she said.

Oxfam has been accused of a lack of transparency over an investigation into the use of prostitutes by staff members in Haiti which led to the dismissal of four employees and three others being allowed to resign.

The allegations revolve around Oxfam’s then head of mission in Haiti, Belgian national Roland van Hauwermeiren, whose behaviour had already led to complaints when he worked for the charity in Chad.

After resigning from Oxfam, he went on to work for French charity Action Against Hunger in Bangladesh.

There were reports on Wednesday that there had already been complaints about van Hauwermeiren when he worked for the British medical charity Merlin in Liberia.

Since the scandal was first reported last week, allegations have been reported about similar cover-ups over sexual misconduct at different charities.

“Sexual abuse and exploitation is an issue the entire development sector needs to confront,” Mordaunt said, calling for a culture that “ensures victims and whistle-blowers can come forward without fear”.

When abuse is carried out “by people in positions of power, people we entrust to help and protect, it rightly sickens and disgusts. And compels us to take action,” she said.

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