Oxfam has reported an increase in global safeguarding cases in the year to March 2019, reflecting greater awareness and trust in its safeguarding systems.
This is the second disclosure since the international agency committed to being more open and transparent by reporting consolidated data from across the worldwide confederation every six months as part its ten-point action plan to improve its safeguarding work and culture.
The Oxfam confederation, which is made up of 19 affiliated organisations and approximately 10,000 staff worldwide, has also published the latest update on progress against the action plan today. The update includes:
- Introducing a single case management system across every country where Oxfam operates. The new system will improve the timeliness and consistency of safeguarding investigations and reporting, including to donors and statutory authorities;
- Updated and standardised policies on a range of issues relating to safeguarding which will be reviewed on a regular basis;
- Increased budget and new resources to drive culture change across the confederation;
- Introducing new roles to address safeguarding and culture change, including creation of a Safeguarding Associate Director in Oxfam International and the appointment of a Director of Safeguarding in Oxfam GB;
- An enhanced induction course for staff with a greater focus on safeguarding, behaviour and culture;
- A new performance management process that emphasises accountability with increased focus on how Oxfam works as well as what it achieves;
- Agreeing a confederation-wide commitment to ensure 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 in June, following visits to nine countries.
An Oxfam survey, intended to open up honest discussion and self-reflection about culture change was completed by nearly 4,000 members of staff. The results will help to deepen Oxfam’s understanding of the serious factors that contribute to staff having problems with speaking out in work settings and concerns about lack of accountability as well as work-life balance and well-being.
The survey revealed that most staff feel safe to report safeguarding issues through formal reporting mechanisms and to discuss difficult issues with their managers. While only a minority of staff have negative experiences in these aspects, there are still 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 or race.
The new data shows that Oxfam received 294 safeguarding reports across the confederation in the year to March 2019. Of these, 221 were closed and 73 remain under investigation. The numbers reflect greater awareness of rights and reporting, and more trust in Oxfam’s safeguarding systems.
Of the cases that have now been closed, there were:
- 23 cases of sexual abuse;
- 25 cases of exploitation (including actions such as paying for sex);
- 74 cases of sexual harassment;
- 98 cases of other forms of misconduct (such as bullying);
- One case where information was not provided.
The investigations resulted in:
- 79 dismissals;
- 45 cases of non-disciplinary action (such as training in safeguarding and Code of Conduct);
- 58 cases where there was insufficient evidence and the allegation not upheld;
- 10 resignations (two prior to the allegation being made and eight afterwards);
- Seven cases: no information available;
- One case that was later identified as not related to safeguarding;
- 21 cases in which the complainant did not wish to go forward to an investigation.
Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said:
“Oxfam is a different organisation today than it was 14 months ago when we launched our ten-point action plan. 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.
“I believe 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. We have an enhanced framework of stronger safeguarding policies and increased expertise to better help protect people. We’re 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 and able to espouse the values to which we aspire.
“We realise we have so much more to do. There is no ‘job done’ end date. We strive always to be a better organisation – not a perfect one. Changing culture takes time, but we are on that permanent journey of understanding, self-reflection and transformations, both the subtle and the profound. That’s what cultural change is all about, and it takes time. We’re getting that little bit stronger, day by day – we remain open and eager to keep learning and improving.”