UK Government Reviewing Cooperation with Oxfam Amid Prostitution Scandal

The British government announced Friday that it is reviewing its cooperation with the humanitarian organization Oxfam following reports that Oxfam officials have hired prostitutes in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

Oxfam is a confederation of humanitarian organizations headquartered in Oxford, UK. According to the British newspaper The Times, Oxfam employees hired young prostitutes in Haiti in 2011 during a mission following the earthquake that ravaged the country in 2010, killing nearly 300,000 people.

The UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) said Oxfam’s leaders “showed a lack of judgment” in the way they investigated the case and in communicating with the government and the British commission that control humanitarian organizations.

“The way in which these shocking abuses of vulnerable people have been handled raises serious questions that Oxfam has to answer,” said a spokeswoman for the DFID.

“The International Development Secretariat is reviewing our current work with Oxfam and has called for a meeting with its management team as soon as possible,” said the spokesperson.

According to the Times’ repory, groups of young prostitutes were invited for sex parties in Oxfam-paid homes and hotels. A source quoted by the newspaper said it had seen a video of an orgy with prostitutes wearing Oxfam t-shirts.

In addition, the Times claims that Oxfam did not warn other humanitarian organizations of the behavior of its employees involved in these activities, which allowed these employees to subsequently obtain missions in different areas with vulnerable people or other areas of natural disasters.

This is the case, according to the Times, of Roland Van Hauwermeiren, 68, forced to resign, as confirmed by Oxfam, from his post as Haiti director of the organization after admitting to having hired prostitutes, and could then become Chef de Mission for Action against Hunger in Bangladesh in 2014.

The French NGO told the Times that it had checked with Oxfam before hiring the man but Oxfam did not reveal the man’s past behavior. Oxfam “did not give us any warning about his unethical behavior, the reasons for his resignation or the results of the internal investigation,” the NGO said according to the newspaper.

“In addition, we received positive references from former Oxfam staff members who had worked with him, including a human relations officer,” the NGO told The Times.

The British government on Friday ordered Oxfam to hand over to the Charity Commission, the UK body monitoring humanitarian associations, its documents on employees involved in the Haiti case.

Oxfam said it launched an internal investigation immediately in 2011 which established the existence of a “culture of impunity” among some of the staff. The organization denied wanting to hide the facts to protect its reputation.

Four employees were fired and three others, including Roland van Hauwermeiren, resigned before the end of the internal investigation, said Oxfam.

“The behavior, discovered in Haiti in 2011, of some Oxfam staff members was totally unacceptable, contrary to our values ​​and the high demands we expect from our staff,” Oxfam wrote in a statement released on Friday. 

Andrei Santov

Andrei, a sociologist by profession, born in Russia but currently located in UK, covers mostly European and Russia-related news for The Talking Democrat.