The Oxfam scandal in Haiti
Many press articles and social networks are bewildered by the incidents of abuse involving Oxfam in Haiti, which became public knowledge through the New York Times in early February. In the course of this episode, Medicines sans Frontières also published reports about incidents of sexual abuse in their organisation. U2 singer Bono apologised for incidents of bullying and abuse in the organisation One, which he co-founded. As a result of the scandal, several people terminated their role as Oxfam ambassadors, including actress Minnie Driver, Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tito and singer Baaba Maal. Haiti suspended Oxfam for two months while the country conducted investigations into the incidents and some organisations and numerous private donors have suspended their funding for the time being. The scandal is increasingly spreading to other organisations.
Not a new phenomenon?
However, these reports are unlikely to have hit the public completely unprepared. There have been repeated reports pointing to the abuse of power and the exploitation of people involving international organisations. For example, Canadian Megan Nobert was raped during a development aid mission in Southern Sudan in 2015 by an employee of a UNICEF contracting partner and subsequently went public. She also launched an online reporting platform where people can report incidents and find contact points for support.
The "sextortion" phenomenon has also been reported on several occasions in recent years. This is a form of corruption whose currency is not money but sex. The International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ) has reported on the topic and provides information about what can be done to combat sextortion. Young journalists sponsored by The International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC) have produced a short but clear film entitled This is Sextortion. It's a Crime, which addresses UN Peacekeepers and others. It is important to note that in all of these cases, the victims are not only girls and women: boys and men have been affected, as well as people who do not comply with social-normative conventions.
The suffering caused by war, persecution or natural disasters and what it means for one's own life is is difficult for many people to imagine for most people. In addition, there is the concern for family members and friends and the emergency situation, in which access to food and basic medical care is difficult. But also people who travel to crisis areas or poverty regions to work as aid helpers experience extreme situations that are often difficult to cope with: they are far from family and friends and do not always receive the support they would need to deal with such situations appropriately or to deal with fears and stress.
Foundations should establish rules of conduct
How can foundations prevent these problems in their international work? It depends on each individual – what actions are taken, how they question their own work and whether it is desirable for employees to be able to talk openly about situations they find it difficult to talk about. It is important to establish rules of conduct for the work in the foundation, to make those rules known, to talk about them regularly and to actively uphold them. In addition, it is advisable to set up a reporting system – for example, in the form of a whistle-blower hotline – and to systematically investigate reported cases of wrongdoing. Concrete support should be offered for victims of abuse cases. The IAWJ has established concrete guidelines that are helpful for foundations, too.