Private sector 'not exempt' in wake of Oxfam sex abuse, says Penny Mordaunt

The U.K. Secretary of State for International Development, Penny Mordaunt (right), and the U.K. Ambassador to Somalia David Concar (left) meet with United Nations humanitarian aid workers in Mogadishu on Jan. 21. Photo by: Omar Abdisalan / U.N.

LONDON — United Kingdom Secretary of State for International Development Penny Mordaunt said private sector development organizations will not be exempt from upcoming demands the Department for International Development will place on its delivery partners following the Oxfam sexual abuse scandal.

“On the Oxfam scandal, I can assure you, any processes we’re going through with the third sector and the humanitarian sector, we’ll also be doing with the private sector,” Mordaunt said Monday, speaking at an event at the Overseas Development Institute. “This is everyone.”

“The other moral of this story is that if you see wrongdoing, whether it’s with a shipping company or aid distribution, report it,” she added, pointing to DFID’s own whistleblower hotline.

Last week, DFID outlined its demands on Oxfam as the organization pledged to improve its safeguarding and human resources protocols, after a number of Oxfam staff were found to have sexually exploited beneficiaries in earthquake-ravaged Haiti in 2011. Oxfam claims to have met many of DFID’s short-term demands, and has since agreed to step back from bidding on DFID funding until “ministers are satisfied” that the organization’s standards have been raised.

“I will be making a statement in Commons tomorrow bringing everyone up to date on what has been going on and what we’re intending on doing,” she said. “But I think [the Oxfam Haiti sex abuse scandal] is an example of organizations not putting as their priority the beneficiaries of what they’re doing.”

She added that “in other areas, though less dramatic and less likely to receive media attention, we are also perhaps guilty” of not prioritizing beneficiaries.

According to Oxfam’s latest annual report, the organization received more than 31 million British pounds ($43.27 million) from the U.K. government in 2016, more than 7 percent of its total funding, which amounted to 408 million pounds in 2016.

Last week, Mordaunt also ordered all DFID partners to outline their safeguarding and reporting practices by Feb. 26. “At that stage, we will make further decisions about continuing or amending how those programs are delivered,” she said.

At the event on Monday, Mordaunt also said she will be making a statement in the House of Commons on Tuesday outlining more fully DFID’s expectations for its partners.

Following the Oxfam revelations, organizations like Save the Children, CAFOD and others have also committed to re-examining their safeguarding and human resources practices, after it was revealed that at least two of the perpetrators of sexual abuse in Haiti were hired by Oxfam after drawing similar complaints in previous postings. Following the incidents in Haiti, the men were allowed to resign from Oxfam, and the perpetrators then went on to work for other aid agencies in humanitarian contexts, sparking concerns about whether HR and safeguarding systems in the sector are fit for purpose.

One former humanitarian worker deployed in the Middle East and North Africa region said the problem extends beyond Oxfam and indeed beyond the nonprofit sector, to the many local and international for-profit contractors working in shipping, logistics and aid delivery.

“The problem is the lack of authority of HR and the transparency even within the organizations, he said. “And actually these things are happening in the private sector more than in the NGOs.”

The United States Agency for International Development last week called for a review of all current Oxfam agreements.

About the author

  • Molly Anders

    Molly Anders is a former 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.