Belfast Telegraph

Belfast shop cuts ties with Oxfam over abuse claims

Belfast Books
Belfast Books
Penny Lawrence, who has resigned as deputy chief executive of Oxfam
Leona O'Neill

By Leona O'Neill

The ripples from the Oxfam sexual misconduct scandal have reached Belfast, with one business saying they are suspending all ties with the charity over the claims and encouraging others to do the same.

Haiti's government has demanded that Oxfam identify its aid staff who paid for sex in the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake. Officials have called on the staff concerned to be prosecuted and is considering legal action against the charity.

Yesterday, as Oxfam faced crisis talks with the British Government over its handling of the sex allegations, deputy chief executive Penny Lawrence resigned, saying she took "full responsibility" for the behaviour of staff in Haiti, and also in Chad.

And as the fallout from the scandal continued, one popular Belfast book store says they are terminating their business relationship with the charity.

Belfast Books have donated thousands of books to Oxfam since 2014. Director John Junk said that "nothing short of a judge-led inquiry" will make them change their mind.

"We have donated tens of thousands of pounds' worth of books to Oxfam," he said.

"We have also bought a significant amount of books from their Botanic Avenue shop. We have always had a good relationship with them.

"We were absolutely rocked by what we have heard as the story developed. It has turned from one or two individuals in Haiti to people in Chad, potentially underage children.

"People knew that we had that ongoing relationship with Oxfam and we just couldn't let it sit. What went on is unacceptable and how it was investigated was unacceptable.

"I am speaking for my company, which is a donor to Oxfam. As a human being I have a responsibility to stand up for the people this happened to. Nothing less than a judge-led inquiry will put us in a position where we feel comfortable coming back into a relationship with Oxfam."

Mr Junk said that other businesses and individuals "need to look at themselves" regarding future donations to Oxfam.

Other Northern Ireland-based charities were also feeling this backlash from the Oxfam scandal.

Kevin Donnelly, Trocaire's regional manager for Northern Ireland, said he hoped that the scandal would not diminish public confidence in humanitarian workers.

"Trocaire has a zero tolerance approach to sexual exploitation and abuse of any person," he said. "All staff are required to sign our safeguarding policies and are also made aware of their mandatory duty to report any incident or allegation of exploitation or abuse.

"We are horrified by recent reports relating to Haiti. Humanitarian workers are motivated by a desire to help people in crisis situations, often putting themselves at great risk in order to do so.

"We sincerely hope that public confidence in the overwhelming majority of people who engage in this life-saving work with professionalism and courage is not diminished. That would be a terrible outcome for the millions of people throughout the world who face crisis and rely on outside help."

Meanwhile, Save the Children say they have put forward measures to improve standards of professional conduct within the aid sector following the controversy. Chief executive Kevin Watkins said: "As an organisation, and as a sector, we have a moral responsibility to protect the vulnerable children and adults we come into contact with.

"We also have a responsibility to the UK public and to the government to ensure that we meet the highest standards, not just in financial reporting, but in the behaviour we expect of our staff.

"These are tests of leadership - and I am wholly committed to putting Save the Children at the forefront of efforts to tackle the current crisis."

A spokesperson for the British Red Cross said that there had been no dismissals of its staff working overseas for reasons relating to sexual harassment, abuse or paedophilia in the past five years.

"All British Red Cross staff working overseas sign up to a strict Movement Code of Conduct, which guards standards of behaviour, including the prohibition of any act of sexual exploitation or abuse," he said.

"This is strictly enforced. Last year, there were a small number of reported cases of sexual harassment by staff in the UK, involving inappropriate use of language or behaviour. All those cases have been investigated and appropriate action taken.

"Even a small number of incidents is too many. We have a zero tolerance policy to any form of sexual harassment and misconduct, and treat all complaints extremely seriously.

"Any disclosures can be made confidentially and would be thoroughly investigated. We also run an employee assistance programme that offers confidential guidance for staff and volunteers."

Charity Commission director of investigations Michelle Russell said that the watchdog was not told the full story at the time Oxfam first investigated allegations of misconduct in 2011.

Belfast Telegraph


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