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Regulator condemns Oxfam governance over mismanagement

The Charity Commission has found a culture of “tolerating poor behaviour” at Oxfam GB and concluded that the charity has “failed to meet promises made”.

Regulator condemns Oxfam governance over mismanagement
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The Charity Commission has published a critical report on Oxfam GB and said it is taking regulatory action after finding that aspects of the charity’s past record on safeguarding amount to mismanagement.

The regulator’s statutory inquiry opened in February 2018 and takes into account over 7,000 items of evidence, examining the charity’s handling of events in Haiti, and separately its more recent record on protecting people, including its beneficiaries, volunteers and staff, from harm.

The regulator said in a statement this week that the charity has failed to heed warnings, including from its own staff, and that its culture and response around keeping people safe was inadequate.

In 2011, an internal investigation carried out by Oxfam confirmed cases of misconduct by a number of its staff members working in Haiti. However, the Charity Commission found that the then executive of Oxfam GB mishandled aspects of its response to the allegations of misconduct.

"What went wrong in Haiti did not happen in isolation," warned Helen Stephenson, chief executive of the Charity Commission. 

"Our inquiry demonstrates that, over a period of years, Oxfam’s internal culture tolerated poor behaviour, and at times lost sight of the values it stands for."

She explained that while the charity’s leadership may have been well-intentioned, good intentions have limited value when they are not matched with resources, robust systems and processes that are implemented on the ground. 

"Significant further cultural and systemic change is required to address the failings and weaknesses our report identifies," Ms Stephenson added. 

"And so the conclusion of our inquiry marks the beginning, not the end of the process of change for Oxfam GB. Its leadership has hard work ahead of it. We will be watching their progress closely in the weeks and months ahead."

Regulatory action and next steps

On 7 June 2019, the commission exercised its legal powers and issued an official warning under section 75A of the Charities Act 2011 on the grounds there has been some areas of mismanagement in relation to Haiti and its safeguarding governance prior to 2018.

Moreover, on 10 June 2019, the commission exercised additional legal powers and issued Oxfam GB with a regulatory direction under Section 84 of the Charities Act 2011.

The order directed the trustees to take specified actions including to submit an action plan for the commission’s approval by 30 June 2019, which will set out the steps by which it will implement the outstanding actions and recommendations required by the commission.

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