LONDON (Reuters) - Britain will cut off aid funding from any organisation that does not comply with a new review into charities work overseas, aid minister Penny Mordaunt said on Sunday, describing reports of sexual exploitation in the sector as “utterly despicable”.
Oxfam, one of Britain’s biggest charities, on Friday condemned the behaviour of some former staff in Haiti after a newspaper report said aid workers had paid for sex while on a mission to help those affected by a 2010 earthquake.
Mordaunt said she would write to British charities working overseas demanding they declare any problems relating to the duty they have to protect their staff and the people they work with from harm and abuse - so-called ‘safeguarding’.
She also wanted charities to ensure any historical concerns have been properly dealt with, and spell out their policies for handling such cases. She will meet with the charities regulator this week.
“With regard to Oxfam and any other organisation that has safeguarding issues, we expect them to cooperate fully with such authorities, and we will cease to fund any organisation that does not,” Mordaunt said in a statement.
In a statement on Friday, Oxfam neither confirmed nor denied The Times newspaper report but said its misconduct findings had “related to offences including bullying, harassment, intimidation and failure to protect staff as well as sexual misconduct”.
Reuters could not independently verify the allegations contained in The Times report and was unable to reach any of the Oxfam staff who worked in Haiti.
Responding to Mordaunt’s comments, Oxfam’s Chair of Trustees Caroline Thomson said she shared the “anger and shame that behaviour like that highlighted in Haiti in 2011 happened in our organisation”.
She said that as a direct result of the Times story, staff members had raised concerns about how employees in Haiti were vetted and recruited.
The charity said it was introducing a package of measures to strengthen its vetting and induction of staff, particularly in emergencies where it needed to recruit staff quickly. It said significant improvements had been made since 2011.
“Sexual abuse is a blight on society and Oxfam is not immune,” Thomson said. “It is not sufficient to be appalled by the behaviour of our former staff - we must and will learn from it and use it as a spur to improvement.”
Mordaunt, speaking to the BBC, said she would meet Oxfam representatives on Monday. Her department had not been told in 2011 about the nature of the events reported to have taken place in Haiti, although some details were disclosed to the charities regulator, she added.
“What is so disturbing about Oxfam is that when this was reported to them, they completely failed to do the right thing,” she said.
“They let individuals who had undertaken criminal activity, they let them go, they did not tell prosecuting authorities, they did not tell their regulator, they did not tell their donors.”
Mordaunt also said she suspected some people were trying to join charities in order to carry out “predatory activities”.
“It is utterly despicable that sexual exploitation and abuse continues to exist in the aid sector,” Mordaunt said in her overnight statement.
Reporting by William James; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Gareth Jones