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MINISTERS and the Charity Commission have “serious questions to answer” over alleged sex abuse by Oxfam aid workers, Labour said today as the watchdog opened an inquiry.
The charity has faced widespread criticism over allegations that its aid workers paid for prostituted women and girls when they were responding to the massive 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which killed 220,000 people and left 1.5 million homeless.
Deputy chief executive Penny Lawrence’s resignation yesterday was followed by an explosive interview with Oxfam’s former global head of safeguarding Helen Evans, who told Channel 4 News that she had begged senior staff, ministers and the regulator to act on the allegations.
In a statement after the interview, Ms Evans said that she had taken her concerns that Oxfam was “failing to report incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse” to the Charity Commission.
But she said the commission did not meet her or ask for any further information, and that no action was taken after she raised her concerns with her local MP in August 2015, who wrote to several government departments.
Ms Evans said: “At this point, having exhausted all official channels, I stopped.”
Shadow international development secretary Kate Osamor said the commission and government departments had to answer why they took no action.
“Are there other whistle-blowers that have brought safeguarding concerns to the Charity Commission only to be ignored?” she asked.
“It is crucial that we now understand how far this appalling scandal reaches, and whether the Charity Commission is operating effectively as an independent regulator.”
A decision on whether to withdraw public funding from Oxfam — it received £31.7m in 2016-17 — would be taken following the Charity Commission’s inquiry, International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt said.
In Haiti, President Jovenel Moise said yesterday that there was “nothing more outrageous and dishonest than a sexual predator who uses his position as part of the humanitarian response to a natural disaster to exploit needy people in their moment of greatest vulnerability.”
Unite national officer Siobhan Endean said the union would seek an “urgent meeting” with Oxfam management, but warned: “We need to be aware that individuals and organisations are cynically using these events to try to undermine the UK’s commitment to international development.”
There have been accusations that the Conservatives would use action over the Haiti sex abuse scandal to punish Oxfam for its work exposing how government policies have increased inequality, or slash foreign aid spending.
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