UK Oxfam funding halted as DRC investigation continues

Charity ‘acutely aware’ of duty to survivors, ‘including in supporting them to speak out’

The charity confirmed last week that two members of Oxfam DRC staff were suspended as part of an ongoing investigation, set up last November, into allegations of abuses of power. File photograph: Getty

The charity confirmed last week that two members of Oxfam DRC staff were suspended as part of an ongoing investigation, set up last November, into allegations of abuses of power. File photograph: Getty

 

The United Kingdom has halted funding for international charity Oxfam after allegations of sexual wrongdoing and bullying were made against its staff working in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

In a statement on Wednesday night, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said: “All organisations bidding for UK aid must meet the high standards of safeguarding required to keep the people they work with safe. Given the most recent reports, which call into question Oxfam’s ability to meet those standards, we will not consider any new funding to Oxfam until the issues have been resolved.”

In an emailed statement, an Oxfam spokeswoman said the charity was seeking further information about the FCDO decision. “The steps we are taking in the DRC reflect our commitment to tackle abuses of power,” she said.

The charity confirmed last week that two members of Oxfam DRC staff were suspended as part of an ongoing investigation, set up last November, into allegations of abuses of power.

“We are acutely aware of our duty to survivors, including in supporting them to speak out safely. We are working hard to conclude the investigation fairly, safely and effectively,” said a spokeswoman.

Oxfam has worked in the DRC since 1961.

According to the Times of London, the latest allegations about Oxfam DRC staff were detailed in a letter staff sent to charity bosses in February, which identified 11 people accused of wrongdoing. It described exploitation, abuse, threats, corruption, intimidation and sexual harassment.

“Many Oxfam staff have lost faith in Oxfam’s promises of accountability and in the principles Oxfam says it stands for,” the letter read. “We hope that the DRC does not become another example of Oxfam’s failure to prevent power abuses following the Haiti media exposé in 2018 and Oxfam’s explicit commitment to do better.”

That same month, the UK Charity Commissionannounced that three years of strict scrutiny of Oxfam’s operations was ending, as it had made significant reforms since coming under fire for staff misconduct in its operation in Haiti, meaning it was likely to once again be able to apply for UK government funding.

In 2019, a report by the charity commission found that Oxfam failed to disclose allegations of child abuse in Haiti, following the 2010 earthquake.

The latest announcement comes as UK aid is being drastically cut across the world, with spending reduced by more than €4.63 billion, from 0.7 per cent of national income to 0.5 per cent.

“The impact of the pandemic on the UK economy has forced us to take tough but necessary decisions, including temporarily reducing the overall amount we spend on aid,” a spokesman for the FCDO told the BBC about the cuts. “We are still working through what this means for individual programmes.”