Oxfam to begin £16M cuts with ‘office and support functions’

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LONDON — Oxfam Great Britain has revealed plans to make £16 million ($21.2 million) worth of cuts in order to cope with a loss of public donations and institutional funding, following allegations that its staff sexually exploited beneficiaries in Haiti in 2011. The cuts will come from office and support functions, as well as programmatic budgets, an Oxfam spokesperson told Devex.

“We are cutting head office and support functions to ensure that we can continue with the majority of our life-saving and life-changing work on the ground, such as helping Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and people struggling to survive war in Yemen,” the spokesperson said.

The charity reports that it lost 1 in 10 of its regular, individual donors as a result of the Haiti scandal. It also withdrew or was suspended from bidding on new contracts with several institutional donors, who accounted for just under half of its £409 million income in the 2016-17 financial year.

Earlier this month, the European Commission told Devex it had lifted its suspension on Oxfam bidding, following the Swedish International Development Agency, which resumed funding back in March. However, the Oxfam spokesperson said the charity was “waiting for approval [to resume bidding] from a handful of others,” including the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development. Many of these will depend on Oxfam’s ability to demonstrate improvements to its safeguarding procedures since the Haiti incident.

Oxfam continues to implement all U.K.-funded grants and contracts awarded before its withdrawal from bidding in February, DFID confirmed.

The Haitian government announced last week that Oxfam is now banned from operating in the country, saying the allegations against some of its staff — which included paying women for sex — constituted “a violation of its laws and serious breach of the principle of human dignity.”

An Oxfam spokesperson said the organization faces a £16 million shortfall, about 10 percent, in its “unrestricted budget” — the charity’s discretionary funding, raised from the public, to use however it sees fit. It is typically used for administrative costs, home office functions and — ironically — some human resources and safeguarding expenditure. The spokesperson said the organization hopes to minimize cuts to its programming, but told The Guardian some reduction in program operations, as well as job cuts, “are inevitable.”

Oxfam GB currently employs 2,000 people, both in the U.K. and overseas.

Aside from programming, “our other top priority for investment is our action plan to strengthen our continuing efforts to root out sexual harassment and abuse,” the spokesperson said.

Several men were sacked or allowed to resign from the charity following an internal inquiry into the allegations in Haiti in 2011, and it subsequently introduced tighter safeguarding measures. However, on the back of media reports, the U.K. charity regulator launched a statutory inquiry in February to investigate whether the charity “fully and frankly” disclosed details of the incidents at the time, and how it handled them.

Since then, Oxfam’s deputy chief executive Penny Lawrence — who was head of international programs at the time of the incident — has resigned, and Chief Executive Officer Mark Goldring has announced he will step down from the organization at the end of the year.

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    Molly Anders

    Molly Anders is a U.K. Correspondent for Devex. Based in London, she reports on development finance trends with a focus on British and European institutions. She is especially interested in evidence-based development and women’s economic empowerment, as well as innovative financing for the protection of migrants and refugees. Molly is a former Fulbright Scholar and studied Arabic in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.