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Oxfam accused of failing to warn aid agencies that employed former staff who had hired prostitutes

Action Against Hunger tells The Independent that it 'received no information regarding the inappropriate and unethical behaviours of Roland van Hauwermeiren'

Daniel Khalili-Tari
Saturday 10 February 2018 15:40 GMT
Penny Mourdant on Oxfam: If moral leadership isn't there then we cannot have you as a partner

The Oxfam staff who were accused of hiring prostitutes in earthquake-torn Haiti were able to go on and work for other aid agencies, who claimed they were not informed about their behaviour.

Roland van Hauwermeiren, 68, went on to become the head of a mission for Action Against Hunger in Bangladesh after he resigned as Oxfam’s Haiti country director in 2011.

He had admitted that prostitutes had visited his Oxfam-funded villa.

But the French charity told The Independent that they “conducted references checks as per French labour law regulations and internal procedures before employing”, him.

It said: “During this process Action Against Hunger received no information regarding the inappropriate and unethical behaviours of Roland van Hauwermeiren when he was with Oxfam in Haiti nor any warning on the risks of employing him.”

It added: “Action Against Hunger has a zero tolerance policy regarding unethical behaviour, fraud, abuse of power or sexual exploitation. There are strict internal mechanisms in place at both Country Office and HQ levels to detect and prevent any breach of Action Against Hunger’s code of conduct and core values and principles.”

Mr van Hauwermeiren worked as Action Against Hunger’s Country Director in Bangladesh from the 6 August 2012 to 5 August 2014, it said.

His misconduct was separate from that of the other accused men, who were said to have been involved in sex parties “like a full-on Caligula orgy”, sources told The Times, which originally reported the story.

Mercy Corps reportedly employed one of the men dismissed in Haiti for downloading pornographic and illegal material. The company told the newspaper that it received a positive reference from Oxfam in 2015.

Other charities also hired employees involved in the scandal. They said that they had not been alerted by Oxfam of any concerns.

The Government ordered Oxfam to provide the Charity Commission, which regulates the sector, with files on implicated staff.

Theresa May also called for a “full and urgent investigation” into the organisation, which receives tens of millions of pounds in aid. Only last year, Oxfam received just short of £32m from the government’s Department for International Development (DFID).

The Charity Commission has described the allegations as shocking. An internal Oxfam report concluded: “It cannot be ruled out that any of the prostitutes were underaged.”

Dame Barbara Stocking, the head of Oxfam at the time the allegations emerged, said during an interview that her biggest mistake had been “not getting rid of people soon enough”, she added “I give people too many chances”.

The charity said it had publicly announced an investigation into the allegations when they surfaced in 2011 and has denied a cover-up.

Its current chief executive Mark Goldring told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that any references given to staff involved in the scandal, who later found other jobs, had not been officially sanctioned.

He said: “When the staff involved resigned in 2011, all were fired, Oxfam was very clear that we would not give them references. We recorded that on our own system, and we wrote to all of our offices across the world.

“But, there is a real difference between an organisation giving a reference and individuals that have previously worked for an organisation giving references in individual capacities, and that’s what we believe will have happened.”

Mr Goldring denied a cover-up, he said: “With hindsight, I would much prefer that we had talked about sexual misconduct, but I don’t think it was in anyone’s best interest to be describing the details of the behaviour in a way that was was actually going to draw extreme attention to it.”

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