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Uncharitable behaviour


The scandal has prompted dozens of benefactors to cancel their direct debits to Oxfam

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LAST week, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s office issued a terse statement announcing his retirement as a global ambassador from the British-based charity, Oxfam. The cleric has supported Oxfam International’s good work for many years, most recently it the position as one of its global ambassadors.

His withdrawal came in the wake of reports that in 2011, the national director for Oxfam in impoverished Haiti and senior aid workers there hired local sex workers while working in the country. At the time, the charity was providing relief efforts after the devastating 2010 quake that killed 220 000 people and left 1.5 million homeless.

Archbishop Tutu said he was deeply disappointed by allegations of immorality and possible criminality involving humanitarian workers linked to the charity, whose mission is to reduce global poverty and injustice.

The scandal has prompted dozens of benefactors to cancel their direct debits to Oxfam. Reports say the charity also now runs the risk of losing tens of millions of dollars in annual funding from the UK and EU governments.

The scandal of Oxfam staff using sex workers in Haiti is absolutely inexcusable. To make matters worse, we do not yet understand just how widespread the abuse is,with some reports saying the scandal goes back as far as Liberia in 2004.

Like the behaviour that sparked the #MeToo campaign that put the spotlight on the worst excesses of Hollywood, sexual misbehaviour in the aid sector is yet another example of people in positions of influence abusing their power.

For many, a charity worker is morally upstanding and international aid is self-evidently a good thing. It is time to test these assumptions more rigorously. For too long, doing something “for charity” has been a way of muffling potential criticism.

Oxfam is acutely aware that its ability to raise money and enjoy respect depends on a bond of trust. It will be able to maintain its reputation only if it adopts a policy of complete openness and a determination to put right its mistakes.

Where charities might have been given the benefit of the doubt in the past it is vital that they should now be held to a higher standard than everyone else.

All organisations working in disaster, conflict and extreme poverty areas ought to be under a “higher than normal obligation” to guard against exploitative behaviour.

There is no doubt that most charities are engaged in noble endeavours, but that doesn’t mean that charities must not be judged by a more demanding standard than anyone else. To prey on the vulnerable is truly a depraved kind of opportunism.