World News

Oxfam, British Charity, Admits Sexual Misconduct by Workers in Haiti

Posted February 9, 2018 1:33 p.m. EST

Oxfam, one of Britain’s largest charities, acknowledged Friday that staff members committed “sexual misconduct” in Haiti in 2011, after a news report revealed that senior officials there had hired prostitutes, including for sex parties.

Oxfam fired four people and allowed three others to resign after an investigation, which also found that drivers were sometimes ordered to pick up prostitutes and that orgies were held at houses near Port-au-Prince that were used by the organization’s staff.

The employees included Oxfam’s chief official for Haiti relief and other senior staff members, according to the article, which cited a confidential report by the charity.

The revelations were initially reported by The Times of London.

In a statement, Oxfam acknowledged the firings and resignations, including that of the group’s country chief for Haiti, Roland van Hauwermeiren. The behavior was “totally unacceptable” and “related to offenses including bullying, harassment, intimidation and failure to protect staff, as well as sexual misconduct.”

But the statement did not elaborate or mention prostitution.

Many private and governmental aid groups mobilized in Haiti after a devastating January 2010 earthquake, which by some estimates killed more than 200,000 people. But relief efforts have been marred by various charges of misconduct against those sent to Haiti to help, including multiple reports of misspent money, as well as allegations of misleading fundraising and excessive secrecy by some charities.

A cholera outbreak that killed thousands of Haitians was traced to United Nations peacekeeping troops sent in after the earthquake.

Oxfam posted hundreds of people in Haiti after the quake and reported that it had raised and spent more than $100 million for relief efforts there.

The charity did not respond Friday when asked if it disputed any part of article by The Times of London. When asked the same question in a BBC interview, Barbara Stocking, who was the group’s chief executive in 2011, said, “I absolutely disagree that we were not transparent.”

“Of course we take that very seriously, which is why those people lost their jobs,” she said. “We didn’t hide this.”

Stocking said the organization had not notified Haitian police of its findings. The country, one of the poorest in the world, was struggling to recover from the earthquake, and the organization’s lawyers advised that, given the circumstances, “the police would not deal with it at that time.”

The Times of London, citing people with knowledge of the case, reported that some of the sex workers might have been under 18, an accusation that Oxfam said had not been proven.

“As soon as we became aware of the allegations, we immediately launched an internal investigation,” the group said. “Our primary aim was always to root out and take action against those involved, and we publicly announced, including to media, both the investigation and the action we took as a result.”

But the public statement that Oxfam made in 2011 did not say whether the staff members involved had left voluntarily, where they ranked in the organization or even that they had done wrong. Making no mention of sex or prostitution, it described the misconduct as a breach of its code of conduct, bullying others within the group and “bringing Oxfam’s name into disrepute.”

The organization said Friday that its 2011 investigation had “resulted in the creation of our dedicated Safeguarding Team and a confidential ‘whistle-blowing’ hotline as part of a package of measures to ensure that we do all we can to protect our staff, prevent sexual abuse and misconduct happening in the first place and improve how we handle any allegations.”

Under a humanitarian program for earthquake victims, some Haitians were granted “temporary protected status” to live legally in the United States, but the Trump administration is ending that protection and has told some 59,000 of them to leave the country by mid-2019.