Unit 4: Good governance and organisational oversight


4.5 Lessons learnt

The UK Charity Commission undertook an inquiry into Oxfam when whistleblowers raised their concerns that Oxfam was not taking the safeguarding concerns of the sexual exploitation of women (and possibly children) by the Country Director of Haiti and other senior management seriously.

In a foreword to the report, the Chair of the Charity Commission said that no charity is more important than the mission it pursues or the people it serves. The case of Oxfam has not only implications for one, large charity but for the wider sector to learn from and be held to account.

The report heavily criticises the Board and senior management of Oxfam as it missed opportunities to address issues raised by its own safeguarding staff and exposed the charity to undue risk.

For example:

  • Resourcing and capability around safeguarding at the charity between 2015 to 2017 did not match the risks associated with the charity’s global reach and the nature of its work.
  • The charity’s approach to safeguarding case work was at times unstructured and a lack of adequate assurance and oversight mechanisms meant trustees were unable to identify serious failures in case handling, including poor record keeping, failings which the inquiry is ‘extremely critical’ of.
  • Weaknesses in the charity’s HR practices prior to 2018, particularly concerning problems around vetting and referencing and management oversight, led to a ‘culture of tolerance of poor behaviour’.
  • As late as 2017, promises that the resources for safeguarding would be increased were not delivered.

Are any of these points from the Oxfam report applicable to your own organisation? How can these challenges be overcome?