15 Feb 2018

VIDEO: Oxfam NZ responds to UK org's sex scandal

3:09 pm on 15 February 2018

Oxfam New Zealand has checked all its employee files in the wake of a sexual abuse scandal in the organisation and has found two cases of sexual misconduct, but the employees are no longer working for the organisation.

The British charity is accused of concealing the findings of an inquiry into claims staff used prostitutes while delivering aid in Haiti in 2011. Oxfam's deputy chief executive Penny Lawrence has resigned over the handling of the scandal, saying she was "ashamed" and takes full responsibility.

A senior figure in Oxfam today said she was aware of past claims of sexual abuse involving the charity's staff in Asia.

Oxfam's Regional Director for Asia Lan Mercado told the BBC the new cases took place in the Philippines, Bangladesh and Nepal before she started as regional director two years ago.

Oxfam NZ chief executive Rachael Le Mesurier told Morning Report Oxfam Britain is a separate organisation from Oxfam NZ, but described the claims as shocking.

Oxfam NZ had taken steps as a result of the claims, she said.

"What we've done as a result of this is gone back through every single employment file that we have, prior to me as well as the ones that have been in the last four years.

"We've found two cases that have had components of sexual misconduct in them, we acted fast, those people are not working for Oxfam and they were moved very very quickly."

The New Zealand complaints were at a far lower level than those that occurred in Haiti, Ms Le Mesurier said.

"I understand that our listeners and our donors are deeply concerned by this, we do have to rebuild trust, and I'm going to go out and say one of those cases involved sexual flirting, inappropriate words, inappropriate statements with ... someone who wasn't part of Oxfam."

The victim was female but her age isn't known, Ms Le Mesurier said.

One of the complaints related to a New Zealand worker and one related to a worker in Polynesia.

The complaints represented a very small proportion, Ms Le Mesurier said.

"But it doesn't matter how small, this is a massive wake up call for Oxfams all around the world, we have to stamp it out and we are stamping it out."

Now the Haitian government is seeking the arrest of Roland van Hauwermeiren, Oxfam's head of mission in Haiti in the period straight after the country's devastating 2010 earthquake.

Mr van Hauwermeiren is accused of paying locals for sex - which is illegal in Haiti.

Using sex workers would be a breach of Oxfam New Zealand's code of conduct, Ms Le Mesurier said.

"Oxfam New Zealand had a strong code of conduct which meant it was in breach of that code to ... use sex workers, it's in breach of the code for transactional sex, that's when it's abusing the power that aid workers can have over vulnerable, particularly, women," Ms Le Mesurier said.

Oxfam New Zealand also checked references of potential employees and those referees are asked explicitly, 'Is there anything that would cause any risk to any vulnerable person?', she said.

Employers who breached Oxfam New Zealand's code of conduct would be considered in breach of their employment contract.

If it was investigated, and an employee was found to be in breach, they would be sacked.

Many Oxfam New Zealand supporters view it as an Oxfam Great Britain scandal, she said.

A small number of donors to Oxfam New Zealand have cancelled, but other donors have said they will ensure that they will give a little bit more money and continue to support the organisation, Ms Le Mesurier said.

  • Disaster relief agencies under pressure
  • NZ 'shamefully' poor on tax policies - Oxfam
  • NZers giving directly to causes, less to charities