In 2018, it was revealed by The Times that sexual exploitation by Oxfam workers in Haiti, from 2010 to 2011, had been covered up. But despite being recently cleared to apply for Government aid funds Oxfam is again facing allegations of bullying, mismanagement, and sexual exploitation by senior managers, this time in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Though whistle-blowers claim to have been raising concerns about the sexual exploitation by Oxfam workers in the DRC since 2015, the inquiry only began in November 2020.
The inquiry commenced when the Thomson Reuters Foundation and The New Humanitarian named Oxfam as one of the charities it was investigating in relation to a “sex for jobs” scandal among aid workers operating in the DRC during the Ebola crisis. The inquiry is being carried out by the international consultancy Oscao, which is reporting into Oxfam’s safeguarding unit in Oxford.
Oxfam employs 273 staff in the DRC and has been operating there since 1961. They work primarily on water and sanitation projects for vulnerable communities. Allegations about the behaviour of Oxfam staff in the DRC were brought to the leaders of the charity in February 2021 by way of a ten-page letter.
The letter was signed by over 22 current and past Oxfam staff and contained allegations against 11 employees, the majority of whom held management roles. The letter claimed threats had been made against the lives of the whistle-blowers and their families, it referred to incidences of sexual harassment of female staff and interns and it also referred to extensive corruption in the granting of local contracts for transport, accommodation, and consultancy work. Following recent contact by The Times regarding the inquiry, Oxfam has suspended two aid workers.
Also in February 2021, the UK Charity Commissioner reported that Oxfam had reformed extensively and had completed a three-year period of regulation following the issues that arose in Haiti. This surprised the whistle-blowers as the allegations relating to the issues with behavior in the DRCC were outstanding and the investigation is ongoing, this, in turn, led to their letter being released to journalists. A spokesperson for Oxfam has stated “We are working hard to conclude the investigation fairly, safely, and effectively”