Independent commission to investigate claims of sexual exploitation at Oxfam

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The head of Oxfam International has said she will be appointing an independent commission to investigate claims of sexual exploitation.

Executive director Winnie Byanyima promised to root out any wrongdoing at the charity and provide justice for anyone abused by its staff.

In an interview with the BBC, Ms Byanyima apologised for the scandal which has seen the charity accused of concealing findings of an inquiry into claims staff used prostitutes while delivering aid in Haiti in 2011.

She said: “I’m appointing a high-level commission, independent commission that will look into our culture and our practices and make recommendations to make us stronger at protecting our people.

“We are going to create a vetting system.”

She added: “I’m really inviting anyone who has been a victim of abuse by anyone in our organisation to come forward.

“I’m here for all the women who have been abused, I want them to come forward and for justice to be done for them.”

Ms Byanyima admitted that the charity had “a problem”, but added that the majority of its 10,000 staff worldwide were “people of values”.

According to the BBC, the reforms at Oxfam will include doubling the budget for the charity’s safeguarding team, setting up a global database of accredited referees to ensure sex offenders cannot re-offend at other charities, and improving the organisation’s “whistleblowing mechanism”.

Her announcement comes after the International Development Secretary met with top law enforcement officials on Thursday to discuss how vulnerable people receiving charity aid can be protected from sex abuse.

Penny Mordaunt met with Lynne Owens, director general of the National Crime Agency, and Home Office officials.

They discussed how to “protect vulnerable people” and how to guarantee “appropriate safeguarding provisions” are in place for charities involved in overseas aid, according to the National Crime Agency.

Later on Thursday, the Charity Commission set out the scope of its statutory inquiry, which will probe the charity’s case records, its handling of the Haiti allegations and the extent of knowledge of similar allegations against staff in areas such as Chad and Liberia predating Haiti.

The inquiry will also look at the charity’s communications with police and other agencies.

Michelle Russell, director of investigations, monitoring and enforcement at the Charity Commission, said: “Acting in the public interest as regulator, this inquiry must and will establish the facts about what the charity knew about events in Haiti in 2011, and how it responded at the time and since.”

Ms Mordaunt previously threatened to remove Oxfam’s funding, accusing the charity of failing to show moral leadership by not properly informing donors about the actions of its workers.

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