10/02/2018 16:04 GMT | Updated 10/02/2018 18:07 GMT

Oxfam Boss Denies Claims Of A 'Cover Up' Over Aid Workers' Actions In Haiti

'We were very open with the public that we were ashamed of the behaviour of our staff.'

The chief executive of Oxfam has denied that the charity tried to cover up allegations that some of its aid workers used prostitutes in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake.

Mark Goldring’s comments come after the government announced it would be reviewing its relationship with Oxfam in the wake of the allegations.

The Charity Commission has said that Oxfam did not disclose full details about the use of prostitutes by some staff in Haiti in 2011.

Four workers were sacked and three were allowed to resign, leading to concerns that former employees could work for other international aid organisations.

Majed Jaber / Reuters
Oxfam chief executive Mark Goldring (C) denies claims of a 'cover up' over aid workers' actions in Haiti.

Goldring told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme that the charity did “anything but” cover the incident up, adding that Oxfam was proactive in releasing information to the public.

But Goldring conceded that the exact nature of the allegations against staff were not revealed and that future employers were not made aware of the alleged incidents. 

“We were very open with the public that we were ashamed of the behaviour of our staff. We still are,” he said.

Goldring continued: “With hindsight, I would much prefer that we had talked about sexual misconduct.

“But I don’t think it was in anyone’s best interest to be describing the details of the behaviour in a way that was actually going to draw extreme attention to it when what we wanted to do was get on and deliver an aid programme.”

Oxfam’s staff were in Haiti as part of the relief effort following the devastating earthquake in 2010, which killed more than 200,000 people.

Goldring said that the behaviour of staff was “totally unacceptable”, but added that Oxfam had done “a lot right” since 2011. 

The Department for International Development is reviewing (DfID) is reviewing its relationship with Oxfam in the wake of sex allegations.

A DfID spokesman said: “We often work with organisations in chaotic and difficult circumstances. 

“If wrongdoing, abuse, fraud, or criminal activity occur we need to know about it immediately, in full.

“The way this appalling abuse of vulnerable people was dealt with raises serious questions that Oxfam must answer.

“We acknowledge that hundreds of Oxfam staff have done no wrong and work tirelessly for the people they serve, but the handling by the senior team about this investigation and their openness with us and the charity commission showed a lack of judgement.

“We have a zero tolerance policy for the type of activity that took place in this instance, and we expect our partners to as well.

“The Secretary of State is reviewing our current work with Oxfam and has requested a meeting with the senior team at the earliest opportunity.”

The Charity Commission said that Oxfam made a report to the regulator in August 2011 about an ongoing internal investigation into allegations of misconduct by staff members involved in their Haiti programme.

But the watchdog added that its approach would have been different had full details been released to them at the time.

The Charity Commission said in a statement on Saturday: “It (the report) explained that the misconduct related to inappropriate sexual behaviour, bullying, harassment and the intimidation of staff.

“The report to us stated there had been no allegations, or evidence, of any abuse of beneficiaries. It also made no mention of any potential sexual crimes involving minors. Our approach to this matter would have been different had the full details that have been reported been disclosed to us at the time.

“We have written to the charity as a matter of urgency to request further information regarding the events in Haiti in 2011 to establish greater clarity on this matter. This includes a timeline of events, information about when the charity was made aware of specific allegations and the detail of the investigation’s findings and conclusions. This information will be considered as part of an ongoing case regarding the charity’s approach to safeguarding.

“It is important that charities engage with the regulator frankly and openly. We must fully understand the allegations that have been made to ensure that we have confidence in the charity’s approach to safeguarding now and in the future.”