Thousands cancel Oxfam donations in wake of sex scandal

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Juliet Bremner

One of the bosses of Oxfam has revealed thousands of people have cancelled their donations, as he apologised again for the sex abuse scandal which has rocked the charity.

The committee of MPs was told around 7,000 individual donors have cancelled regular donations to the charity over the past 10 days.

Mark Goldring, the charity's GB chief executive, said he and the organisation were sorry "for the damage that Oxfam has done".

The charity has already issued an apology to the government of Haiti, after allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by staff responding to the 2010 earthquake in the country surfaced.

"I am sorry, we are sorry, for the damage that Oxfam has done, both to the people of Haiti, but also to the wider efforts for aid and development by possibly undermining public support," he told MPs from the Commons International Development Committee.

Mr Goldring added that corporate sponsors appeared to be "reserving judgment".

He also offered an apology for comments he gave in an interview about the scandal, which some had perceived as him downplaying the seriousness of the allegations.

He had told the Guardian: "The intensity and the ferocity of the attack makes you wonder, what did we do? We murdered babies in their cots? Certainly, the scale and the intensity of the attacks feels out of proportion to the level of culpability."

Asked how many more revelations had come to his notice since newspaper reports of the Haiti scandal emerged earlier this month, he said: "Across Oxfam Great Britain we have had about 26 stories, reports come to us which were either new reports come out as a result of the stories, or earlier stories where people said, 'I didn't necessarily report this at the time'. Over an extended period of time, I am not talking about recent cases."

The chair of trustees Caroline Thomson, and Winnie Byanyima, the executive director of Oxfam International, faced questions alongside Mr Goldring.

Winnie Byanyima said: "I'm ashamed. I've spent my life trying to stand up for women's rights, and to fight, for people living in poverty, so this is painful for me."

Caroline Thomson added that they didn't think the allegations were handled well, adding "our task now is to make sure we report always with transparency and accountability."

Oxfam has released the report of an internal inquiry which called for other charities to be warned of "problem staff", only for a number of those involved to take up other posts in the aid sector.

A leaked copy of the report - which Theresa May described as "absolutely horrific" - was first published by The Times, prompting a storm of criticism over the handling of the episode.

It detailed four dismissals and three resignations by staff over allegations ranging from the use of prostitutes on charity property to sexual exploitation of employees.

Suspicions that under-age sex workers had been exploited "cannot be ruled out", according to the document.

Roland van Hauwermeiren quit Oxfam in 2011 Credit: ITV News

It alleges the director of operations in the country, Roland Van Hauwermeiren, admitted using sex workers in his charity-funded accommodation and was granted a "phased and dignified exit".

Last week he denied ever using prostitutes in Haiti.

Several men at the centre of the allegations subsequently took up roles in aid organisations, including at Oxfam.

Van Hauwermeiren became a senior figure at Action Against Hunger in Bangladesh, with the charity since claiming Oxfam made no mention of his alleged conduct in 2011.

Similarly, one former staff member was employed by Oxfam as a consultant in Ethiopia just months after being sacked, a move the charity said last week was a "serious error".

The committee of MPs also spoke with Kevin Watkins, the chief executive of Save the Children UK. He said his charity had produced two reports - dating back as far as 2002 - warning that "predatory men" were seeking to use aid work as an opportunity for abuse.

Save the Children has been pushing for an international humanitarian passport, which could be removed if aid workers breach rules.

However, Mr Watkins said the proposal has faced resistance on the grounds that it would be too complex to introduce and administer on a global basis.

He told the committee: "My short answer to that problem is to create one. This is clearly a complicated problem but the consequences of not dealing with it in human terms are utterly appalling, leaving aside the reputational effects for our agency. We absolutely have to tackle this."