British charity Oxfam said on Monday that deputy chief executive Penny Lawrence had resigned, taking responsibility for how the organisation “failed to act adequately” in response to concerns raised internally about sexual misconduct by some members of staff. “Over the last few days, we have become aware that concerns were raised about the behaviour of staff in Chad as well as Haiti that we failed to adequately act upon,” Lawrence said in a statement. It is now clear that these allegations – involving the use of prostitutes and which related to behaviour of both the country director and members of his team in Chad – were raised before he moved to Haiti.”
The resignation comes as Oxfam is battling to save its British government funding after a newspaper reported alleged sexual misconduct by its staff in Haiti during humanitarian relief operations there following a 2010 earthquake. Senior managers were summoned to a meeting with Britain’s aid minister Penny Mordaunt during which she was expected to demand the full facts, with 32 million pounds ($44 million) of government funding to Oxfam hanging in the balance. The scandal was fast escalating into a broader crisis for Britain’s aid sector by bolstering critics in the ruling Conservative Party who have argued that the government should reduce spending on aid in favour of domestic priorities.
Founded in 1942, Oxfam is one of Britain’s best-known charities, running humanitarian and aid operations across the globe. Its 650 shops selling second hand clothes and books to raise funds are a familiar sight on high streets across Britain.While the government funds that Mordaunt has threatened to withdraw represent only about 8% of Oxfam’s overall income of 409 million pounds in 2016/17, according to its annual report, the risk for Oxfam is that private donations also drop as a result of the bad publicity.
The scandal broke last week when The Times newspaper reported that some of the charity’s staff had paid for sex with prostitutes in Haiti in 2011, in the months after the earthquake. Oxfam has neither confirmed nor denied that allegation and made no further comment on Monday when contacted by Reuters. It has said that following an internal investigation into alleged misconduct in 2011 four members of staff had been dismissed and three others, including the Haiti country director, had resigned.
The charity has apologised and said it was ashamed of what had happened, without spelling out what that was. It has also pledged to improve its procedures. “The misconduct findings related to offences including bullying, harassment, intimidation and failure to protect staff as well as sexual misconduct,” Oxfam said in a statement on Friday. Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman said the government needed to do more to ensure charities strengthened safeguarding procedures to ensure the “horrific behaviour” seen in Haiti was not repeated.