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This Monday, July 11, 2011 file photo shows silhouettes of U.N. peacekeepers from Brazil at the airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Eduardo Verdugo/AP

Oxfam Has Denied Claims It Covered Up Allegations of Staff Paying Haiti Prostitutes for Sex

Oxfam has denied allegations it attempted to cover up accusations of staff members paying prostitutes for sex while on a humanitarian mission following the Haiti earthquake in 2010. 

The charity, one of Britain’s biggest, condemned the behaviour of the former staff members as “totally unacceptable,” in a statement responding to the allegations published in the Times newspaper on Friday. 

It said the former staff members’ behaviour was “contrary to our values and the high standards we expect of our staff.” 

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Four senior members of staff were fired as a result of the charity’s investigation, while three more, including the country director, resigned before the investigation was finished. The charity said they were allowed to resign, rather than be sacked, on the condition that they cooperated fully with the investigation. 

“As soon as we became aware of the allegations we immediately launched an internal investigation,” Oxfam’s statement continued. “Allegations that underage girls may have been involved were not proven.” 

The charity’s 2011 report of the investigation, however, found that the claims couldn’t “be ruled out,” according to the Times

Oxfam is not the first agency to be accused of abusing those it purports to serve; the UN has also found itself at the center of allegations that its Peacekeepers sexually abused individuals they were supposed to protect and has vowed to fight harassment throughout the organization. 

Read more: The UN Is Vowing to Fight Sexual Harassment in Its Agencies

The Times report quoted an unnamed source as saying that staff working for Oxfam had brought groups of young prostitutes to their guesthouse in Delmas, near Port-au-Prince, for sex parties, reported Reuters. It was further reported that some of the sex workers had been wearing Oxfam T-shirts.

Oxfam denied the Times’ claim that it had tried to keep the investigation secret, saying that it had announced the investigation publicly, and to media, when the allegations surfaced in August 2011. It said it then publicly announced the outcomes of the investigation in September 2011. 

“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,” it said. 

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The charity added that, following the investigation, it created its Safeguarding Team, and a confidential “whistleblowing” 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.” 

The devastating earthquake, which hit Haiti in 2010, was the worst in more than 200 years. It killed more than 200,000 people and caused significant damage to the country’s infrastructure and economy, reported the BBC

The Charity Commission — which, according to Oxfam, confirmed that the charity had taken appropriate action and it therefore had “no regulatory concerns” — said allegations like these risk undermining the trust of the public in charities. 

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“The public expects charities to be safe and trusted environments that safeguard those who come into contact with them,” a spokesperson said. “Allegations such as those involving Oxfam staff risk undermining public trust.” 

They added: “We will expect the charity to provide us with assurance that it has learnt lessons from past incidents and is taking all necessary steps to safeguard all who come into contact with it.” 

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