Oxfam: Former staff member dismissed by Cafod after abuse claims

Haiti in 2010Image copyright
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The sacked worker had been among the Oxfam staff in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake

A Catholic charity has sacked a worker after it emerged he had been accused of sexually exploiting vulnerable people in Haiti while working for Oxfam.

Cafod said it was “unaware” of the claims until they were contacted by the Times, which broke the Oxfam story.

It comes as a senior Oxfam figure says she is aware of past sex abuse claims against the charity’s workers in Asia.

Meanwhile, charity Doctors Without Borders said it had handled 24 cases of harassment or sexual abuse last year.

In a statement Cafod, an international development charity, said employee had applied for the job in 2014.

It said references were provided from the man’s previous employers, as well as a written reference from somebody the man said was a former line manager from Oxfam.

Earlier this week, when Cafod became aware of the allegations, the staff member was put on leave while the charity investigated.

He was dismissed on Wednesday when Oxfam confirmed claims he was among its workers who was working in Haiti in 2011 after the earthquake, and had been accused of sexual misconduct.

In its statement Cafod said it was “committed to a zero-tolerance approach to misconduct” and the employee’s failure to disclose the circumstances of his departure from Oxfam were in breach of its code of behaviour.

It added that it has not received any complaints about the employee during his tenure.

The charity has now also reviewed two historical cases of sexual misconduct allegations against other employees. One yielded no evidence and one saw a staff member dismissed.

‘Reputational risks’

The Charity Commission has launched a statutory inquiry into Oxfam – which denies covering up the behaviour of its staff in Haiti.

It will publish details of its scope on Thursday.

It is also looking into claims that Roland van Hauwermeiren – the charity worker at the centre of the sexual misconduct scandal in Haiti – was employed by Oxfam two years after he left another aid agency because of concerns about his behaviour.

Oxfam said it would co-operate fully with the inquiry and recognised it was in the public interest to be “transparent and accountable and that lessons from 2011 are learned”.

The charity’s regional director in Asia for the last two years, Lan Mercado, has told the BBC she is aware of allegations of sexual abuse against staff in the Philippines, Bangladesh and Nepal from 2009-2013.

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Lan Mercado took up her post as Oxfam’s Asia regional director in 2016

She said the scale of misconduct was “not comparable” to that in Haiti and the incidents had been dealt with internally “according to specified policies”, although the situation should not be defined as a “cover up”.

However, Ms Mercado said more effort should be made to alert the authorities and other potential employers about allegations, adding: “The funny thing about cases like this is that we always see them as reputational risks.”

“The way to manage reputational risk is not to keep silent…we need to be thinking about the reputation of the sector as a whole,” she added.

Earlier, actress Minnie Driver stood down from her role as a celebrity ambassador for Oxfam, saying she was “nothing short of horrified” by the allegations.

Organisations including Marks & Spencer and the Duke of Edinburgh’s (DofE) Award have also said they are considering their association with the charity.

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Media captionSexual misconduct “happens at every agency”, says an ex-UN aid worker

International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt spoke to the National Crime Agency (NCA) about the Oxfam case.

She said she would “not hesitate” to cut government funding to charities that failed to put robust safeguarding measures in place and Oxfam’s failure to deal with the actions of some of its staff should be a “wake-up call”.

The NCA said it had range of powers to investigate allegations abroad and would be considering how it can assist with “international safeguarding considerations”.

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