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Cutting foreign-aid budget to punish Oxfam would be a ‘tragedy’, warns Archbishop of Canterbury

23 February 2018


The chief executive of Oxfam GB, Mark Goldring, appears before the House of Commons International Development Committee, on Tuesday, flanked by the executive director of Oxfam International, Winnie Byanyma, and the chairwoman of Oxfam GB, Caroline Thomson

The chief executive of Oxfam GB, Mark Goldring, appears before the House of Commons International Development Committee, on Tuesday, flanked by ...

IT WOULD be a “tragedy” if the Oxfam sexual abuse scandal resulted in a cut to the foreign-aid budget, the Archbishop of Canterbury said on Tuesday.

Revelations of sexual abuse by Oxfam staff in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake of 2010 (News, 16 February) were “appalling”, Archbishop Welby said. But he continued: “The answer to doing a good thing badly is not to [not] do any good things. It is to do good things well.

“To back off from that [the commitment to 0.7 per cent of GDP to be spent on foreign aid] would be a tragedy. It would be to retreat behind our walls and it would be an ignoring of the vast difference we can make and the vast and positive influence we can have as a nation, which we deploy very effectively through the 0.7 per cent.”

Archbishop Welby is a long-term supporter of the foreign-aid budget, and said that the reports about abuse had not changed his opinion.

“If you put people under huge stress in places of great difficulty, some of them will behave very badly indeed and wickedly,” he said. “We [the C of E] are scarcely as an institution in a place to throw stones at people who have been caught out on issues of abuse. Let’s be honest. One of the lessons we have learnt is that transparency matters.”

PAA woman kneels at a cross that remained intact amid rubble after the 2010 earthquake, in Haiti, in January 2012

On Tuesday, the chief executive of Oxfam GB, Mark Goldring, told the House of Commons’s International Development Committee that the charity had lost 7000 regular donors since the revelations were published in The Times earlier this month. Since then, the charity had also received 26 new reports of sexual misconduct, 16 if which occurred in countries where Oxfam was engaged in aid projects.

He said that the reports “are a direct response to the publicity, and I believe it is the full range of concerns from the very serious to perhaps where someone felt something was not dealt with properly in the past”.

The Labour MP Stephen Twigg, who chairs the committee, told Mr Goldring that it seemed as though his organisation had “a lot to apologise for”.

Mr Goldring urged people with information concerning further allegations of misconduct to come forward. “We really want people to come forward wherever they are and whenever this happened,” he said.

He also apologised for remarks he made in an interview to The Guardian last Saturday, in which he said that the level of criticism that Oxfam had received was as if it had “murdered babies in their cots”.

Mr Goldring said: “I was under stress, I’d given many interviews, I’d made many decisions to try to lead Oxfam’s response to this. I was thinking about amazing work I’ve seen Oxfam do across the world, most recently with refugees coming from Myanmar. I should not have said those things. It is not for Oxfam to judge issues of proportionality or motivation.

“I repeat Oxfam’s broader apology and my personal apology. I am sorry, we are sorry, for the damage Oxfam has done both to the people of Haiti but also to wider efforts for aid and development by possibly undermining public support.”

Also on Tuesday, the International Development Secretary, Penny Mordaunt, accused Oxfam of a “complete betrayal of trust”. She said that it “misled” the Charity Commission, “quite possibly deliberately”.

On Thursday of last week, the Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, Dr Desmond Tutu, announced that he would retire as an ambassador for Oxfam, because of “allegations of immorality and possible criminality” involving the charity’s aid workers.

Last Saturday, World Vision, the Christian aid agency, rebutted reports that its staff were also involved in sexual exploitation in Haiti.

A statement said: “World Vision’s extensive investigations into these issues revealed that those involved in sexual exploitation were not World Vision staff. They were community volunteers and cash-for-work beneficiaries themselves.”

The organisation said that “there may have been inappropriate behaviour by people employed by or associated with World Vision that went unreported”, and urged anyone with information to get in touch.

Save the Children was also forced to apologise to female employees who complained of inappropriate behaviour by Justin Forsyth, the charity’s former chief executive, who said that their claims were not properly dealt with.

A statement released on Tuesday said: “We apologise for any pain these matters have caused and sincerely hope that the complainants feel able to help us with the review in the coming weeks.”

Read our leader comment on misguided reactions to the Oxfam scandal 

You can also read our columnist Paul Vallely on the ‘gap in perception’ of The Times’ coverage

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