Scathing review of Oxfam culture finds ‘toxic work environment’

The work environment at Oxfam is marked by “racism, colonial behaviour and bullying behaviours”, according to a new report.

The interim report produced by the independent commission, set up by Oxfam International in the wake of the Haiti scandal in 2018 to assess the company’s culture, found it has a “toxic work environment”.

A lack of “robust policies and procedures” across the charity also led to a culture in which sexual misconduct could be misunderstood at best or, at worst, unaddressed, it said.

The 30-page report details the initial findings of the commission’s investigation after speaking directly with staff, communities and survivors to identify problems and solutions.

The Independent Commission on Sexual Misconduct, Accountability and Culture Change (ICSMACC) heard from staff who complained of a wide range of issues, which the charity apologised for and said it was acting to stamp out.

The report said: “The Commission has heard multiple staff raise concerns of elitism… racism and colonial behaviour… sexism, rigid hierarchies and patriarchy that affect relationships among Oxfam staff and between Oxfam staff and its partners and program participants.”

Staff were highly critical of both management behaviour and company procedures for dealing with bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct.

These were said to be “deficient” and compromised staff morale at times.

Bullying is so prevalent that staff said they did not believe the company’s values were understood by all employees.

The report said: “Oxfam’s values are printed on wall posters but not always understood or upheld in action-and sometimes are even contradicted”.

Additionally, those who have raised issues in the past, referenced as “whistleblowers and survivors”, “felt deeply frustrated and saddened at the lack of accountability they experienced”.

In some cases, those individuals reported being pushed out of the organisation, or were left with “no choice but to leave”.

The investigation into the charity’s culture began in May 2018 following reports of alleged sexual assault by staff in Haiti in the wake of the 2010 earthquake.

The Commission is still gathering research before the full report is published in May 2019, including an investigation from the UK Charity Commission.

Oxfam said the report was an “important step” to help “tackle the root causes of abuse”.

Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam International executive director, said: “We set up the commission to ask the hard questions of our culture and practice. This is an important piece of work at a crucial time for us.

“We will use its emerging recommendations to bolster our ongoing improvements so that we truly have ‘zero tolerance’ to anyone who would abuse their power over others.”

Ms Byanyima also apologised to those who had experienced abuse from the organisation.

“It is painfully clear that Oxfam is not immune from sexual and other forms of abuse that stem from the abuse of power,” she said.

“To those who have experienced such unacceptable behaviour: we are sorry, I am sorry, and we will follow up on any cases passed to us by the Commission as a matter of urgency.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Yui Mok / PA Wire.

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