Baroness Sheehan: Oxfam and the difficult questions that need answering

Posted On: 
12th February 2018

The Lib Dem International Development spokesperson writes that the UK must 'lead the fight against institutionalised abuse wherever we find it' and calls for a wide and far-reaching independent inquiry into these matters to establish what happened and how widespread this behaviour was.

Credit: 
PA

We cannot afford to damage our reputation as a leader in development thinking

The revelations emerging about the behaviour of some staff in Oxfam, and other aid organisations, are shocking. People who were sent to rebuild communities and get people back on their feet in the wake of a major natural disaster have betrayed those very people they were sent to help. 

Those senior staff in Haiti who abused young women whilst they should have been helping to rebuild shattered lives after the 2010 earthquake, have rightfully shaken the public’s trust in respected household names and high street brands such as Oxfam and Save the Children. 

And it appears that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

The public have a right to know what has gone so badly wrong, and why. Development organisations receive millions of pounds of charitable donations to help some of the most vulnerable and poorest people on the planet. They are trusted by you and me to fix the problems in the world and yet there has been a major failure in ensuring that every penny is spent with probity. 

We need now to fix the problem. The Liberal Democrats are demanding a wide and far-reaching independent inquiry in to how this has happened and how widespread this shocking behaviour has become. It is vital to public interest that we know who knew what and when.

How was Roland Van Hauwermeiren able to move from Oxfam to Save the Children after admitting to abusing his position as Head of Oxfam in Haiti in 2011 by using prostitutes?

What robust safeguards are actually in place and how, in the face of clear failure, do we strengthen them? 

We must also face a potentially painful truth, did the aid sector abuse under-age girls? And if so, is the development sector subject to institutionalised paedophilia?

Inevitably, unless answers to the above questions are forthcoming, attacks against the 0.7% of GNI that is devoted to overseas aid will increase. But this would be a kick in the face of not only the vast, vast majority of aid workers who work tirelessly to alleviate extreme poverty, but also jeopardise some of the really worthwhile programmes bringing health, education and sanitation solutions to those who are in desperate need.

We must not throw the baby out with the bath water.

Brexit means that our standing on the global stage matters now more than ever. We cannot afford to damage our reputation as a leader in development thinking and lose our pole position as a soft power broker. We must stand tall, stamp out predatory behaviour in our aid organisations and lead the fight against institutionalised abuse wherever we find it.


The Baroness Sheehan is the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for International Development