Oxfam 2011 investigation reveals how tip-off exposed top-level misconduct

A report by Oxfam into alleged abuse by its aid workers sheds light on how a tip-off bloomed into a scandal which has now shamed the organisation.

An email on July 12 2011 from the "Latin America & the Caribbean Region" alerted staff to a spate of potential code of conduct breaches.

Offences reported "related to sexual exploitation (use of prostitutes in OGB (Oxfam GB) guest houses and sexual harassment of staff), fraud, negligence and nepotism", according to the newly released document.

Investigators were also alerted that country director (CD) Roland Van Hauwermeiren had allegedly used prostitutes at his "OGB funded residence", prompting a decision to probe claims against him first.

Three people were sent to Haiti to covertly investigate the accusations during four days. The report concluded: "The only substantiated allegations against the CD were of the use of prostitutes in his OGB residence."

It continues: "During the interview the CD admitted using prostitutes in his OGB residence. On being briefed on the wider allegations, he took full responsibility and offered to resign.

"After further discussion... it was agreed that OGB might accept his resignation, and allow him a phased and dignified exit, provided he would fully co-operate with the rest of the investigation."

This was partly in recognition of the "significant contribution he made in his time with OGB", the report added.

Mr Van Hauwermeiren last week denied ever using sex workers in Haiti.

Forty witnesses were interviewed during the investigation, but the leaking of an official report resulted in "3 of the suspects...physically threatening and intimidating one of the witness", leading to further charges of bullying and intimidation.

The report ended: "None of the intiial allegations concerning fraud, nepotism, or use of under-age prostitutes was substantiated during the investigation, although it cannot be ruled out that any of the prostitutes were under age."

A summary of the investigation then set out accusations, findings and action taken.

It showed:

  • Mr Van Hauwermeiren, country director - accused of the "use of prostitutes in OGB premises" and "negligence and failure to safeguard employees - in particular, female employees". He made an "admission during interview with investigation team", leading to his "resignation with immediate effect".
  • Unnamed suspect - accused of "sexual exploitation and abuse of employees", "bullying, harassment & intimidation", "use of prostitutes in OGB property" and "misuse of OGB resources (pornographic images & videos on laptop"). This was corroborated by "statements from current and ex-employees plus contractors", leading them to be "dismissed for gross misconduct for failure to protect staff".
  • Unnamed suspect two - accused of "sexual exploitation and abuse of employees", "bullying, harassment & intimidation" and "use of prostitutes in OGB property". This was corroborated through "statements from current and ex-employees plus contractors", resulting in them being "dismissed for gross misconduct for use of prostitutes within OGB property with immediate effect".
  • Unnamed suspect three - accused of "fraud/corruption", "use of prostitutes in OGB property", "bullying & harassment of other OGB staff" and "misuse of Oxfam resource - pornographic images & videos on laptop plus pirated copyright materials". Investigators found "no evidence of fraud", but "other allegations corroborated by current employees and contractors". They were dismissed for "gross misconduct" with immediate effect.
  • Unnamed suspect four - accused of "use of prostitutes in OGB property" and "bullying & intimidation of other OGB staff". Corroborated through "statements" and "interview evidence". The suspect "resigned under investigation".
  • Unnamed suspect five - accused of "fraud", "use of prostitutes in OGB property", "bullying & intimidation of other OGB staff". The investigation found "no evidence of fraud", but "use of prostitutes in OGB property and bullying and intimidation corroborated through statements from current employees and contractors". They were was "dismissed with immediate effect for gross misconduct for bullying and intimidation of OGB staff".

  • Unnamed suspect six - accused of "CV fraud" and "use of prostitutes in OGB property". He "resigned under the investigation, during his home leave".

Other accusations included one person spoken to about nepotism and failure to declare a contract of interest and a "final written warning" given to the person responsible for leaking the report which ended up in the hands of several suspects.

PA

KEYWORDS: Oxfam

 

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