Rough Justice: the Charity Commission and Oxfam GB (full version)

(A Summary of this paper will be delivered to the Charity Law Association Annual Conference on 3 October and is available separately on this website.)


  1. There have been some important gains for the international charity sector, and our sector more broadly, as a result of the painful scandal to hit Oxfam GB and the statutory Inquiry carried out by the Charity Commission. It is now much clearer to charities that, in the words of the Charity Commission Report, “Protecting people from harm is not an overhead to be minimised, it is a fundamental and integral part of operating as a charity for the public benefit”. We must all, belatedly, place concern for, and listening to, survivors of sexual abuse, harassment and exploitation as a much higher priority than we and most other social institutions have done until relatively recently. Oxfam GB has chosen to accept the Inquiry’s findings and they and Oxfam International are in the midst of ambitious plans to achieve a step change in the effectiveness of their safeguarding operations and HR culture, whilst many other charities, who watched Oxfam take a massive hit on behalf of all of us who had so much need to improve our performance, have scrambled to invest more time, money and attention in these matters. This has involved enormous effort on the part of the Charity Commission and they deserve credit for their important contribution to this increased awareness and these substantial improvements.
  2. Nonetheless, aspects of the Commission’s Inquiry and Report are disquieting. I emphasise that I have deliberately not consulted anyone associated with Oxfam in the past or present in any way about this paper. Its views are entirely mine.[1]
  3. What are the fundamental purposes of a major statutory Inquiry such as the one carried out by the Charity Commission into safeguarding and related matters at Oxfam GB? I assume that the purposes are:
  • To give confidence to the public, including politicians, donors and supporters of charities, that decisive regulatory action will be taken if a charity goes astray, that wrong-doing that damages trust in charities will not be tolerated and will be rectified thoroughly
  • To find out in a trustworthy manner what actually happened, and why it happened
  • To ensure that, from such an authoritative understanding, the right conclusions are drawn and lessons learned and acted on for the future
  • To see that justice is done – to the victims of any inadequacies in Oxfam’s safeguarding, to whistle-blowers who helped uncover such inadequacies, to Oxfam’s supporters and donors who have given in good faith and deserve to know the truth about the charity, and to the Trustees, staff and volunteers of the charity who deserve a fair assessment of the allegations made against them.
  • The Essential Trustee offers an important perspective on justice to Trustees: “The Commission recognises that most trustees are volunteers who sometimes make honest mistakes. Trustees are not expected to be perfect – they are expected to do their best to comply with their duties. Charity law generally protects trustees who have acted honestly and reasonably.” That constitutes an implicit pledge to Trustees and is a cornerstone of Trusteeship. We shall come back to it.
  1. The circumstances leading to the Inquiry into Oxfam made it exceptionally difficult for the Charity Commission to achieve all of these purposes. My assessment is that the first objective was largely achieved but the other three were not. Since I wrote this paper, the former Chief Executive of the Charity Commission, Andrew Hind, has independently published (Civil Society News of 18 September 2019) a forensic article showing that in his view the evidence of the Commission’s Inquiry into Oxfam GB does not support the conclusions drawn by the Commission:
  2. The first difficulty was the sustained virulence of public and political indignation about the scandalous revelations in the media. This fury was unprecedented, and the Commission were no more used to it than Oxfam GB. A rough analogy might be the public indignation about the murder of Baby P in Haringey in August 2008. All agencies and key players trying to handle the Baby P case fared badly as they tried to respond to public and political fury[2]. It was only when Lord Laming was asked to undertake a broader, calmer appraisal of child protection generally in the wake of the Baby P case that all four of our Inquiry purposes were likely to be met. The furore over Oxfam GB created a similarly red-hot atmosphere, with damaging implications for calm truth-seeking.
  3. The second difficulty was that the public fury had scorched the backside of the Charity Commission itself, as well as Oxfam. Since the Commission was actually told by Oxfam that staff in Haiti had been dismissed for sexual misconduct, and invited explicitly to ask for any more detail it required, why, asked many commentators, did it not do so? Was it really Oxfam’s fault, asked others, if reporting of safeguarding incidents to the Commission had generally been allowed to become less frequent, consistent and timely than it has since become? Others asked: why had the Commission not picked up on a whistle-blower’s testimony sooner? Hence, in the subsequent Inquiry, the Commission had points to prove affecting its own reputation.
  4. This toxic atmosphere threatened to contaminate the objectivity of the Inquiry from the start. The statutory Inquiry into Oxfam GB was launched on 12 February 2018. On that same day, 12 February, the Charity Commission’s own Director of Investigations told the BBC in interviews that Oxfam had not disclosed full details of what happened in Haiti and “We are as you would expect very angry and cross about this”. That is unusual language at the very start of what is supposed to be a truth seeking and fair Inquiry. The Commission launched an Inquiry identifying itself with public shock, fury and indignation at Oxfam. Once they had committed themselves to that position, it would have been difficult to row back.
  5. The result was that the Inquiry was indeed more like an aggressive prosecution than an impartial fact-finding exercise in understanding what happened and why.
  6. The third difficulty lies in the definition of “safeguarding” for the purposes of the Inquiry. In its updated strategy, guidance and alerts relating to safeguarding the Charity Commission is at pains to use a wide definition that is not restricted to sexual exploitation and abuse, nor to children and vulnerable adults. The definition is “[ensuring] that beneficiaries or others who come into contact with their charity do not, as a result, come to harm”. That definition clearly includes such matters as Health and Safety and security – huge issues for Oxfam, especially when working in war zones and chaotic disaster zones, or impoverished countries where there is no general use of seatbelts and where roads and vehicles, unstable buildings and mudslides may be very dangerous. If those aspects of safeguarding are neglected, tragedy and death can and does result.[3] So it is disturbing that, despite their own definition, the Commission’s Inquiry neglects such vital aspects of safeguarding as security, or Health and Safety, or whole dimensions of the Humanitarian Division’s Safe Programming, altogether. That builds potential injustice into the Inquiry. [4]
  7. The fourth difficulty is the grossly unequal power relationship between the Charity Commission and Oxfam for the duration of the Inquiry and beyond. This stemmed partly from the huge mass of public indignation filling the Commission’s sails. Oxfam’s only viable communications strategy was to keep saying “Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry”, express shame and remorse time and again, and promise that everything would now change. I totally respect that strategy, and when Mark Goldring once tried to push back against the tide a further tsunami of indignation ensued. Oxfam’s funding from DFID and others was also frozen pending the outcome of the Commission’s Inquiry, so the Commission was in an extremely powerful position, and Oxfam in an extremely weak one. That is not necessarily conducive to careful understanding of Oxfam’s side of the story or to balanced truth-seeking. Oxfam GB had in the end to accept almost any judgement from the Commission, such was the overwhelming priority to get the Inquiry over and move on. That prepared the way for a Report, which the Commission went out of its way to badge as highly critical, with the humiliating charge of “mismanagement” reiterated again and again, creating a comprehensively derogatory cumulative effect.
  8. A fifth difficulty was that, so far as I know, among the Board or senior staff of the Commission there is limited experience of working in or being a Trustee of a charity even remotely like Oxfam. Nor can the Commission afford any more to have a Large Charities Division. Perhaps this partly explains why the reality of what it was actually like to be Trustees or senior staff leaders of Oxfam GB and why it might be that they did not fund safeguarding more generously, as I have explained at length in another article, are entirely absent from the Report.[5]

Authoritative Fact-Finding on what happened …..

  1. There is a great deal of praiseworthy, meticulous fact-finding in the main Report itself. Exhaustive examination of many records is evident. The views of Oxfam’s current and past representatives are frequently quoted, and for example the former Trustees had legal representation and an impartial QC was put in charge of over-seeing the independent inquiry into safeguarding by the consultancy firm Ineqe. But to my mind there are significant instances where even in the narrative of the main Report itself there is reluctance to allow relevant facts to weaken the prosecution case.
  2. For example, it became quite well known amid the media furore that aspects of Oxfam’s safeguarding in its global humanitarian work had been singled out for praise as best practice in an independent study by a Professor and team at Tufts University in the USA. Even if the specialist consultants Ineqe pooh-pooh the methodology of that study, it seems unfair not to mention it at all except in a dismissive footnote.
  3. The Inquiry is critical of a number of aspects of the way in which Oxfam carried out its investigation into the allegations about some its Haiti staff in 2011. What is not mentioned is that Oxfam itself disciplined the lead Investigator precisely for some of these shortcomings and indeed, as a result of these and other aspects of his performance, negotiated his resignation, which he at first resisted, from Oxfam. To mention the flaws without mentioning Oxfam’s vigorous disciplinary response is unfair and one-sided.
  4. Some of the strongest criticism of Oxfam GB in the Report is levelled at the decision to allow (or force – both words apply) the Country Director in Haiti to resign on a month’s notice, taking responsibility for all the wrong-doing on his watch, rather than dismiss him summarily because he had (according to him twice in a year) paid for sex with prostitutes in his residence provided by Oxfam. A key reason given by the Oxfam investigators for recommending this was the equivalent to plea bargaining. Confronted by Oxfam’s investigators, the Country Director had agreed to resign and cooperate with the investigation as part of the proposed deal, lending his assistance and testimony in the process that led to the dismissal of four staff and forced resignation of two others – quite a purge. Crucially, the Inquiry does not try to assess whether the CD’s collaboration with the Inquiry was in fact instrumental in the disciplining of the other offenders, despite the fact that it was a potent consideration in the resignation deal. If the Country Director’s cooperation was in fact significant in the effectiveness of the purge, the Commission’s prosecution case would look weaker. Is that why the Inquiry did not try to assess the extent to which the plea bargain assisted in clearing out the Haitian stables? And there were other important reasons for the senior staff decision which the Inquiry does not assess properly.[6]
  5. A further example of lapses in fairness comes in the phraseology sometimes chosen by the Report. A discussion of the 2011 events in Haiti and subsequent decisions and reporting ends with the following judgement on page 79: “Overall, the Inquiry is not completely satisfied that the combined oversight, scrutiny of the information and assurances given to the 2011 Trustees were sufficient in the circumstances”. Presumably, if they are not “completely satisfied”, a very high bar, they could have said that they are in many respects satisfied, or are mostly satisfied, or there were excellent elements mixed with some inadequate ones, but the choice is to say the Inquiry is not completely satisfied.
  6. Similarly, having found that the Haiti events were followed up by a comprehensive action plan which was taken to the relevant Board Committee, discussed at length there and against which progress was, according to the testimony of the then Trustees, reported to and monitored by them at all times, the Report concludes:

“Overall the Inquiry finds that the former trustees did exercise oversight over the organisational risks arising from the internal investigation and how the executive proposed they would be addressed. However, the inquiry was not completely satisfied that the oversight and scrutiny of the information and assurances provided by the executive were sufficient to enable the trustees to be satisfied that they were carrying out their legal duties and responsibilities, and that the executive were effectively held to account for the decisions they had made on matters of such significance.”

This summarises many positive aspects with a dry understatement – they exercised oversight – and places the emphasis on failure to reach the high and subjective bar of “complete satisfaction” of the Inquiry. Trustees, take note: The Essential Trustee may say you are not expected to be perfect but if the going gets rough, expect the Charity Commission nevertheless to apply a criterion of complete satisfaction.

  1. The next example pertains to the reporting of the Haiti investigation to the Charity Commission at the time. The Inquiry is reluctant to admit candidly that Oxfam were following almost universal practice in the charity sector in referring to beneficiaries in Haiti as the people actually receiving aid and support from Oxfam, ie as synonymous with their users. The idea that in that context they were using the word as referring to every member of the earthquake-affected population on the island of Haiti seems to me fanciful. Moreover, the Commission itself uses the word “beneficiaries” as synonymous with users in other relevant contexts. For instance, in Chapter 2 of their 2013 Toolkit on Protecting Charities from Harm, they say: “What trustees need to apply to undertake due diligence can be described as the “know your” principles:
  • Know your donor
  • know your beneficiaries
  • know your partner”

They are then told they “must follow these principles when they are selecting….beneficiaries.” In the Haiti context, that must mean selecting and knowing the people who are actually receiving or going to be receiving your aid – Oxfam could hardly be “selecting”, or “know”, the entire population affected in some way by the earthquake.

Authoritative Analysis of WHY it happened

19. Despite these questions of selection and negative framing, the main Report is better at presenting the facts of what happened than explaining why it happened.

20. In Part One, covering what happened in Haiti, there is little analysis of specific characteristics of the handful of people who were found to have breached the Code of Conduct – the facts for example that they were white expatriates with a particular prevalent hard-drinking, hard-bitten culture of men scrambled to react to emergencies and disasters in different parts of the world. There is no mention of the fact that there were so few women in positions of management authority in Haiti or elsewhere, and that Haitian staff members seemed to play second fiddle to the expats. There is no effort to even mention the possible roles of patriarchy, racism or post-colonial attitudes to illuminate lessons that might be relevant.

21. It is easy for the Inquiry to criticise the postponement for 6 months of a series of training courses in Haiti on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse planned for June 2010, because they do not enquire into what caused that postponement[1]. If you don’t know why, it’s unfair to be critical.

22. As I have explained elsewhere[2], the whole of Part 2 of the main Report is vitiated by a failure to understand and describe the wider context in which the leadership of Oxfam GB were trying to manage risks, of which safeguarding was only one. This was the period when a new Oxfam International was being painfully born, sucking unrestricted resources and massive senior staff and Trustee time and attention into a fundamental re-structuring of the Confederation. This was a massive change, made for ethical reasons stemming from Oxfam’s values, in which Oxfam GB took a leadership role. It involved refashioning the flows of accountability, finance and risk management right across the globe in prolonged negotiations, followed by action plans of stunning complexity and duration. Pertinently, it meant that the Oxfam GB Trustees and senior staff were coping with an entire new layer of risky change management on top of the egregious risks already inherent in Oxfam’s work in up to 90 countries across the globe. This essential context, and the story of how Oxfam GB’s Trustees and staff set about this extraordinary risk management challenge, of which safeguarding was just one part, is entirely missing from the Charity Commission’s Report.

23. That context was well known to the Commission and could quite easily have been summarised. Failure to explore and describe it is particularly damaging for the purposes of understanding, as opposed to prosecution; of drawing the right conclusions; and of justice.

The repeated charges of “mismanagement”

24. It is not difficult to see why the Inquiry wanted to identify instances of “mismanagement in the administration of the charity”, because this is the relevant criterion for issuing a formal Regulatory Warning to Oxfam GB accompanied by formal requirements that Oxfam had to meet in order for the Warning to be lifted. This was perhaps seen as a key requirement for satisfying the first of the Inquiry’s objectives identified above.

25. The effect of frequently repeating this phrase throughout the Report is, however, to create a humiliating impression of systematic incompetence and failure, particularly on the part of the Trustees and senior staff leadership. That is what enabled the Commission to badge its Report so emphatically as “critical”, taking some media correspondents aback[3], in order to assuage public indignation and secure the objective of displaying a tough regulatory response.

26. In my opinion, however, most of the individual charges of mismanagement, with its connotations of systematic incompetence, are, at best, contestable, partly because the Inquiry does not define it adequately. How is “mismanagement” different from a difficult and debateable judgement, a decision to give priority to something else which with hindsight one regrets, inconsistent implementation of policies and procedures which the Trustees are doing their best to address, or even an honest mistake in a high pressure world? The Commission’s official definition in its guidance elsewhere does not help with these questions. It seems to me that the Commission was adopting as its approach: Never mind such distinctions, and never mind the side-effect of smearing the reputation of Trustees and senior leadership: keep thudding away with the charge of “mismanagement” and the requirement for a Warning will be met.

27. I assess the individual examples of so-called “mismanagement” in the Appendix of the written version of this paper in your pack, so you can see if you agree they are contestable or even untenable Please also bear in mind Andrew Hind’s excellent and painstaking analysis (Civil Society News, 18 September 2019).

28. All in all, in my opinion, the consequent impression of repeated incompetence is on closer inspection disproportionate and unfair, not least to the Trustees.

Drawing the Wrong Conclusions

29. The greatest injustice of the Charity Commission’s Inquiry and Report lies in some of the conclusions that are promoted by the Commission through the media but that are not borne out by the detailed Report, nor by other evidence.

30. The Conclusions section of the Report begins: “No charity is more important than the people it serves or the mission it pursues.” This forms the banner headline of the Commission’s press release launching the Report. But this is a straw man, since there is nowhere a shred of evidence that anyone in Oxfam thought that the charity was more important than the people it serves or its mission. Any inference that the Trustees and leadership were not completely focused on service to the mission and its beneficiaries is groundless.

31. The next conclusion, nesting beneath the banner headline and taken up by the Commission’s Chief Executive, is that Oxfam GB had a culture of tolerating poor behaviour. The Chief Executive adds that the events in Haiti were symptoms of a wider problem of tolerating poor behaviour, and that Oxfam’s culture at times also lost sight of the values it stands for. This is unjust because

  • As the Independent Commission emphasises, there is no one culture in Oxfam or Oxfam GB, but multiple different ones. The particular culture of hard-bitten expat white men in Haiti was quite different from that of their fellow Oxfam staff in more settled parts of the charity. The whole challenge of management is to achieve sufficient consistency across a hugely diverse and fragmented universe.
  • It is not true that, in general, Oxfam’s culture or cultures tolerated poor behaviour. I have enumerated elsewhere[4] the strenuous, sustained efforts of Trustees and a growing cadre of Oxfam GB staff known internally as The Compliance Alliance to improve compliance with regulatory requirements and Oxfam’s own policies and regulations as well as manage the risky structural upheaval of creating the new Oxfam International.
  • Whatever else one might say about Oxfam’s investigation in Haiti, resulting in four dismissals and three forced resignations, it is hardly fair to call it tolerating poor behaviour.
  • By the device of personalising a supposedly monolithic culture, the Commission’s Chief Executive falls short of saying that the Trustees and staff leadership tolerated poor behaviour and lost sight of their values. But only just.

32. The Chair of the Commission joins in saying that no charity is so large….that it can afford to put its reputation ahead of the dignity and wellbeing of those it exists to protect. The clear implication in context is that this is what Oxfam did. But this is simply not demonstrated by the Report into Oxfam GB. There is no evidence that considerations of reputation overrode concern for beneficiaries and others who came into contact with the charity. There is no evidence that concern for the charity’s reputation was a factor causing the events in Haiti, or the decisions of Oxfam’s investigators there or those of the senior staff in Oxford. Nor did that factor play a part in the allocation of unrestricted funds to important demands other than expanding the safeguarding unit, nor in failure to follow up historic allegations after the purge in Haiti was accomplished.

33. Reputation was only a significant factor in the limited area of less than fully comprehensive reporting of the Haiti incident to big donors and the Charity Commission but this was not at the expense of concern for those coming into contact with the charity. The Inquiry itself concluded that there was no cover up.

34. The Chair adds that being a charity is not just about what you do but how you do it. If she means that Oxfam’s leaders were too focused on their mission to eliminate poverty and advance human rights and didn’t care enough about bad or uncharitable behaviour by themselves or their staff, that is not what the record shows is generally true. I want to put on record my view that the Trustees and senior leaders did NOT tolerate poor behaviour. They knew perfectly well that how you do things is crucially important. Otherwise, why would they have bothered to embark on the restructuring of the Confederation, the better to align Oxfam’s way of doing things with its values and the long term interests of its mission? Or why did Oxfam GB’s Council spend so much time and effort on risk management, compliance, and adherence to policies and operating procedures in support of The Compliance Alliance of staff?


35. The enormously hard work put into the Inquiry by the Commission and Oxfam GB has had some important, positive outcomes, as we gladly recorded at the start. That deserves appreciation. The first of our four objectives may have been largely achieved, but the other three objectives less so.

36. The Inquiry did not find out in a calm and authoritative way what happened and why it happened, because it was more of a prosecution than a genuinely objective Inquiry. It never fully recovered from the “very angry and cross” attitude with which the Commission launched it. Despite a great deal of meticulous research, there are lapses in fairness and important omissions in the basic narrative. There are serious failures even to try to understand why Oxfam took various key decisions, for example the context in which the Trustees and senior leadership were addressing multiple risks and demands on limited unrestricted funds facing the charity and wider Confederation.

37. The attempt to draw the right lessons for the future also had mixed success. I have paid tribute to some important positive outcomes. On the other hand, the conclusions drawn by the leaders of the Commission and widely promoted via the media are not supported by the evidence of the Report nor other sources and hence are the wrong lessons.

38. Finally, the Inquiry did not achieve consistently the objective of seeing that justice is done. Perhaps justice was done to the whistle-blowers who went public with their criticisms of Oxfam’s safeguarding and to those survivors who may not have received the support they deserved from Oxfam’s safeguarding and HR systems; but justice was not done to the charity, its staff, volunteers and supporters, nor notably to its Trustees. This was because the Commission conducted the Inquiry as both angry prosecutor and judge; and prioritised the imperative of producing a highly critical report, with its repeated but ill-defined charges of mismanagement, over fairness and over the implicit pledge made to Trustees in The Essential Trustee. 

39. This is more significant than a bit of rough justice to a few individuals or a single charity. Trustees need to know that if they pursue their duties conscientiously, reasonably and to the best of their ability, they will be protected and supported by the Charity Commission and the courts if things go wrong: for example, if they make mistakes or judgements that they later regret. That is a foundation of Trusteeship, of society’s bargain with those who give up their time and energies for love of serving a charity. Where does the Inquiry into Oxfam leave us Trustees who thought we could rely on that bargain? For us, I am afraid, in Robert Browning’s words, “Never glad confident morning again!”


Andrew Purkis,

September 2019




Appendix: Examples of “Mismanagement” alleged by the Charity Commission’s Inquiry into Oxfam GB


  1. The first formal charge of mismanagement relates to an email purporting to be from a 13 year old local Haitian girl received on 18 July 2011 alleging abuse and sexual exploitation of herself and another girl of 12 at the hands of Oxfam staff, and a second email a little later saying they were now being looked after in a convent. The fact that the email was sent to the Chief Executive in Oxford and a media email address known only to a few Oxfam staff, among other reasons, at once raised strong suspicions that this was a hoax or fake. It was remitted to the investigating team in Haiti to follow up. They did not apparently do so, as they were focused on getting rid of the people who had been involved in known sexual and other misconduct. Similarly, after the purge was completed, neither the Chief Executive nor other senior staff in Oxford were motivated to follow up to see what the investigation team had done with the fishy email. Further recent research on the IPN numbers of the relevant emails confirms that they were fake. The Trustees were not told about this matter. Even if it was extremely improbable that a 13 year old local Haitian girl would send an email to an address known only to a few Oxfam staff, says the Commission, and it turned out to be fake, it was “mismanagement” not to follow up the email just in case.
  2. The second charge relates to the decision, already discussed, to negotiate the equivalent of a plea bargain with the Country Director in Haiti whereby he was forced to resign in a month rather than be summarily dismissed for sleeping with prostitutes in his Oxfam residence, in return for collaborating with the investigation. This was certainly at the very least a questionable judgement on the part of senior staff, but it is impossible to evaluate it without analysis of whether the plea bargain was instrumental in rooting out the other offenders and expelling them from Oxfam and Haiti. The Inquiry offers no such analysis, so the charge of mismanagement is flawed. If the Chair or Hon Officers were consulted, it would have been informally only.[1] It was treated as a confidential management decision. Yet the repeated charge of mismanagement sticks to the Trustees too.
  3. The third charge of mismanagement is levelled at the failures of
  • The investigation team in Haiti and Oxfam GB HR to follow up in 2011 allegations about the use of prostitutes by Oxfam staff in Chad four years’ before, made by someone who had not witnessed the alleged misdemeanours herself. The investigation team, reasonably I think, gave priority to nailing the same key individuals concerned for what the team could show they had done in Haiti, resulting in dismissals and forced resignation.
  • The Director of International Programmes for not doing more in 2011, after the Haiti purge had already expelled them from Oxfam, to follow up rumours of use of prostitutes by some of the same culprits in Chad and DRC in previous years. What she did was undertake a series of confidential discussions with staff who had been there at the time, which unearthed no relevant evidence, and report back to the Chief Executive verbally rather than in writing. “Mismanagement”? Note that, despite two previous investigations by Oxfam regional staff in Chad, the Inquiry acknowledges that there is no actual evidence to substantiate the rumoured use of prostitutes there.[2]
  1. The next three charges of “mismanagement” are all variations on the same theme: that although Oxfam GB was ahead of many other charities in having a specialist Safeguarding Unit, the Trustees and staff leadership were guilty of “mismanagement” because they did not resource it adequately (deciding to prioritise other demands on hard-pressed unrestricted funds which are unmentioned by the Inquiry). As a result, the Unit’s safeguarding systems showed a number of serious flaws and was not measuring up to the risks facing the charity. The Unit felt overwhelmed by individual cases and a more strategic approach fell by the wayside. All that is true and important. The Inquiry’s failure here, however, is not to acknowledge that the Trustees and senior staff were devoting enormous effort and resources to managing all kinds of risks, including a massive restructuring of the whole Confederation, the other aspects of safeguarding not included in the Inquiry and many other internal risks identified as priorities by the Charity Commission in recent years. The Trustees and senior staff might wish now that they had allocated more, sooner, to safeguarding and less to some other important demands, but in my view that is not the same as mismanagement of the charity.
  2. There was also the complicating issue that safeguarding was due to be handed over to Oxfam International as part of the Confederation’s continuing change programme, causing questions to be asked about the timing of further injections of cash into the Oxfam GB safeguarding unit. None of this is mentioned in the Charity Commission Report.
  3. The next charge of mismanagement relates to weaknesses disclosed by an independent HR review of Oxfam GB in 2018. Various aspects of vetting and referencing, recruitment practice, and induction were not consistently implemented. There was too much variation in standards, key values were not consistently embedded in day to day practice, and documented procedures were not consistently followed. A major action plan is underway whereby Oxfam GB and Oxfam International try to address these weaknesses. What is missing from the Report is the well documented insistence of the Oxfam GB Chair and Trustees precisely that policies and procedures were not being consistently implemented on the ground, with two major initiatives relating to better compliance regularly reported on to Council over a period of many months, together with big staff efforts underway, supported by Trustees, to drive up standards of compliance. These were readily available to the Charity Commission investigators but are nowhere referred to. And the Independent Commission set up by Oxfam is quoted selectively and unfavourably to give an unduly negative picture of Oxfam’s culture (as if it were a monolith).[3]
  4. The last example of “mismanagement” is more granular. 11 out of 129 UK safeguarding case files do not show that possible crimes were either reported to the state authorities or advice on them sought. It’s not possible to assess from the Report whether this might be a matter of poor recording, or what the reasons might be other than a simple oversight. It’s clear that the policy was always to report to the police. In addition, for overseas cases 31 out of 83 files do not enable the reader to be sure that a possible crime has been reported, though it might have been.



[1] Once the decision was made to accept resignation in a month as acceptance of responsibility for the whole mess on his watch, it is again debateable as to whether the nature of the plea bargain should have been revealed formally to all Trustees and to donors and the Charity Commission, or whether this was legitimately within the domain of confidential management.


[2] The Oxfam investigators were certain some forms of inappropriate behaviour had been going on but could not evidence use of prostitutes.


[3] Please see my article

[1] A reference by the Country Director to “the change management process” is left unexplored and unexplained.


[3] As the BBC’s analyst Manveau Rana interpreted it: “It is rare to see such strong criticism of a charity….the Report is incredibly strong and has done something to redress the Charity Commission’s own laxity over safeguarding in the past.”




[1] My views are informed by a governance review which I conducted for Oxfam GB as an independent consultant in late 2017, to which a review of safeguarding governance in particular was added in early 2018. Those reviews were internal and remain confidential. They were both made available to the Charity Commission.

[2] Haringey Council were denounced for inadequate serious case reviews and not publishing them in full, and later for allegedly woeful quality of service. OFSTED was in trouble for replacing a favourable intended OFSTED review rating for Haringey rather suddenly with an extremely critical one, having undertaken a supplementary emergency investigation at the behest of Ed Balls the Secretary of State. Ed Balls and Haringey then sacked Sharon Shoesmith in a manner later found to be unlawful and unfair scapegoating.

[3] The Commission defined the scope of their Inquiry into Oxfam GB as “examine the charity’s governance (including leadership and culture), its management and its policies and practices with regard to safeguarding….. both generally and particularly in relation to……its responsibility to provide a safe environment for its beneficiaries, staff and other charity workers in the delivery of its overseas programmes and generally”.

[4] This is not an academic point, because the relevant Oxfam GB Trustees spent a lot of time and effort supervising security and Health and Safety matters, were anxious to discuss, assess and report on them to Council alongside other safeguarding issues, and agonised over whether and when responsibility for security matters could safely be transferred to the nascent Oxfam International, insisting that this and other aspects of safeguarding must not be handed over until it was demonstrably safe to do so. The Inquiry neglects all this.



[6] Other reasons given by the Oxfam investigators for recommending the plea bargain were serious implications of summary dismissal for the Haiti programme – a point not explored by the Charity Commission – and for relationships between Oxfam GB and other Oxfams active in Haiti – another point not explored by the Commission. In addition senior staff in Oxford were not certain that the CD’s actions were in breach of the Code of Conduct as then drafted.


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