Oxfam workers suspended amid sexual exploitation claims

2 April 2021, 14:41

Two Oxfam aid workers in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been suspended as part of an investigation into allegations of bullying and sexual misconduct
Two Oxfam aid workers in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been suspended as part of an investigation into allegations of bullying and sexual misconduct. Picture: PA

By Kate Buck

Two Oxfam aid workers in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been suspended as part of an investigation into allegations of bullying and sexual misconduct.

The inquiry comes just a few weeks after the charity's statutory supervision status was lifted, following reforms prompted by a 2019 report into conduct by its staff after the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

An Oxfam spokesperson said in a statement: "We can confirm we have suspended two members of Oxfam staff in the DRC as part of an ongoing external investigation, which we set up last November, into allegations of abuses of power, including bullying and sexual misconduct.

"The Charity Commission for England and Wales were notified at the start of the investigation and we have kept them informed about its progress.

"We are acutely aware of our duty to survivors, including in supporting them to speak out safely. We are working hard to conclude the investigation fairly, safely and effectively."

The inquiry comes just a few weeks after the charity's statutory supervision status was lifted, following reforms prompted by a 2019 report into conduct by its staff after the 2010 Haiti earthquake
The inquiry comes just a few weeks after the charity's statutory supervision status was lifted, following reforms prompted by a 2019 report into conduct by its staff after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Picture: PA

Oxfam has been active in the DRC since 1961, with its work focused primarily on humanitarian projects such as providing long-term access to clean drinking water.

The Times reports the allegations against Oxfam staff in the country are outlined in a 10-page letter sent to charity bosses in February.

The letter reportedly details allegations against 11 people and is signed by more than 20 current and former Oxfam staff, with claims ranging from sexual harassment and intimidation to systemic fraud and corruption.

Oxfam has been under the spotlight in recent years after the Charity Commission determined in 2019 it had not fully disclosed allegations staff working in disaster zones had sexually abused children. The watchdog also cited a "culture of poor behaviour" among Oxfam GB staff sent to help victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

Allegations included that child prostitutes were used by staff, including at Oxfam premises on the crisis-hit Caribbean island, and that safeguarding measures to protect the vulnerable were inadequate.

Statutory supervision of the charity was lifted in February after it implemented a majority of the 100 recommendations prompted by the inquiry.

A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission told The Times: ""We have been actively liaising with the charity on its investigations into allegations of misconduct in the DRC and have been receiving regular updates and assurances on the steps it is taking to address the concerns."