In an article published on Friday, the British newspaper The Times revealed that seven Oxfam members were accused of hiring prostitutes, some of whom were underage, while on a mission in Haiti after the devastating earthquake of 2010. The Times added that Oxfam acted “to hide (the case) from the public eye”.
The internal investigation led to the dismissal of four people. Three others resigned. Similar events reportedly occurred in 2006 in Chad.
The Deputy Director General of Oxfam, Penny Lawrence, announced her resignation on Monday, saying she assumes “full responsibility” and expressing her shame that these events happened on her watch.
Among those accused of misconduct is Roland van Hauwermeiren: then director of the program in Haiti. The 68-year-old Belgian brought several prostitutes to the villa rented by Oxfam for its employees. The NGO was also reportedly aware of harassment of female employees before hiring him. Van Hauwermeiren was subsequently hired by Action Against Hunger in Bangladesh.
International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt accused the NGO of lying to cover up the scandal, and having failed in its “moral leadership”. Mordaunt is expected to meet with Oxfam Executive Director Paul Goldring on Monday.
The NGO could lose its funding from the British government, which amounted to more than 38 million euros last year.
Priti Patel, the former Secretary of State for International Development, said the case was just “the tip of the iceberg,” adding that she had tried, when she was in office, to warn about abuses, but to no avail.
In a column published in Sunday in The Telegraph, she writes that she tried to ensure accountability “not only for the effectiveness of the humanitarian aid provided, but also for cases of sexual abuse of adults, but also of rapes committed on children.”
On Sunday, Oxfam said that measures to strengthen the management of cases of sexual abuse had been taken, including “the establishment of a protection committee with trusted persons, a phone number to report abuse and internal awareness programs both on prevention of abuse and on how to handle complaints.