Helen Evans had an important mission in her hands from 2012. Oxfam commissioned her to put in place a mechanism to receive and process complaints about cases of sexual exploitation and all kinds of abuses such as those that occurred in 2010 in Haiti and several years before in Chad.
All this process should also serve to improve the codes of conduct of the personnel of the British humanitarian organization when working abroad.
Evans did his job and it did not take him long to discover that relationships with prostitutes and rape accusations in Haiti were not an isolated case. There were more complaints, precisely for the same reason that they increase in any institution where channels are established to present them. Of 12 complaints in the 2012-2013 period, it went to 39 in 2013-2014. Of those 39, in 20 cases the allegations turned out to be totally or partially true. The more internal transparency and the less fear of reprisals, the more likely that previously hidden cases will come to light.
When Evans learned of several cases of alleged abuse of children in Oxfam stores in the United Kingdom, where they can volunteer as children from 14 years old, he claimed more means and that is when he encountered the same obstacles that exist in large corporations at the time of presenting complaints about internal functioning: the bureaucracy (write a report, we will deal with it) and disinterest (the most serious cases were old, they had been solved and any extra publicity would be negative).
After three years at Oxfam, Helen Evans threw in the towel and left the organization. Today she is a Labor councilor in Oxford (Channel 4 interviewed her on Monday night).
It was at that moment when the people in charge of Oxfam demonstrated their scarce moral and intellectual stature to lead the organization. Precisely for being one of the largest Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in the world, receiving millions of euros from British and European institutions, and having the trust of thousands of people who also make financial contributions. There has already been a resignation, but none of them should remain in their posts if they were in them at that time. It is not good to ask for forgiveness and to promise that it will not happen again. They can not claim ignorance.
The big NGOs are not free from the same sins of the big corporations that send part of their staff to poor countries. For companies, the priority is always the income statement. Everything else can be buried or ignored with the typical appeal to rotten apples.
In the case of NGOs, money is important, but its reputation is even more important. And Oxfam’s has been so battered that it can only survive if it establishes new standards of behavior and ways of applying them that are credible.
“There is nothing more shameful than a sexual predator that uses a catastrophe as a way to exploit the vulnerable in their moments of greatest fragility,” said Haitian President Jovenel Moise. “What reflects all this is a violation of the most basic human decency.”
Since the Conservatives returned to power in the United Kingdom in 2010, there has been a permanent debate among the Tories about development aid. David Cameron (former British Prime Minister) decided that cutting public spending would not affect health and the cooperation budget in an attempt to modernize the party’s image. Since then, the pressure of the most conservative wing of the Tories to reduce those funds has been constant with the support of some tabloid newspapers, such as The Sun and Daily Mail.
Just a few days ago, Jacob Rees-Mogg – a Tory deputy on the rise for his radical position in favor of Brexit – presented a request with thousands of signatures promoted by the Daily Express tabloid in favor of cutting development aid in Downing Street. . Sources close to Theresa May reported that she does not intend to apply scissors.
The Administration can not claim that he knew nothing either. After leaving Oxfam, Evans communicated his findings to the Charity Commission (public body that oversees the NGOs and charities) and the Ministry of Cooperation through a deputy. Without any success.
The Oxfam scandal will surely be used by all those who believe that this help is wasteful, especially if it is used to finance abuses. It is not surprising that Save the Children president Kevin Watkins has admitted that “the toxic effects of the scandal weaken us all” in the NGO sector.
The message to the directors and members of the boards of the humanitarian organizations is clear: do not shoot the messengers. Take responsibility for what has happened and continue to do so, and try to transform an industry that needs to change urgently if you want to eradicate the root causes of these endemic problems.
Thanks to the brave people who raise their voices and to those who have confronted Oxfam, many of them women, the doors have opened. It will be impossible from now on to prevent information from other organizations from coming to light about the dark and harmful cultures that have allowed potential criminal activity, sexual exploitation, harassment and other horrifying behavior to exist. And not only that, but these crimes have been rewarded by promoting those who carried them out. At least we have seen a resignation, and we could see others.
Since the revelations about Oxfam were made public, I have been contacted by even more women who are beginning to release their silent and restrained fury. Almost all the women of the sector with whom I speak do not want to disclose their identity for fear that this will affect their careers or to not be accused of promoting a war against the humanitarian sector, as more and more people demand that they be canceled. donations to organizations in the United Kingdom.
Clearly, this is not the answer, since the sector does a very important job. But it is necessary for an independent organization with appropriate funding to investigate allegations of sexual harassment and abuse. Humanitarian agencies should not carry out their own investigations. Women need to know that they will be believed and that they will not be blamed for the problems generated by a handful of privileged people.