Oxfam Sex Scandal: Are the Media Going Too Far?

21Feb, 2018

By Hind Dihan, Account Executive Intern, Effective Communication

Everyone has heard about the recent allegations of certain Oxfam employees taking advantage of the delicate situation in Haiti a few years back after the earthquake. Oxfam soon released a report detailing the men who allegedly paid for prostitutes and sexually harassed certain members of staff.

In the Guardian, following an interview with the Oxfam chief, Mark Goldring, showed that he stated that although he understands that the organisation requires reform (which it has currently been using their social media accounts to publicise), he believes that critics are “gunning” for the charity and that “anything [they] say is being manipulated… even apologies only make matters worse.” He also believes that these critics comments are “out of proportion to the level of culpability”.

I believe that he is sorely mistaken. I believe that the use of the word “manipulated” is a little melodramatic. I understand that news of this has reduced the number of donations, hindered the work of all those employees who didn’t abuse their position and ruined their reputation, but a scandal like this needs to be criticised. In light of the sexual harassment scandal in Hollywood, the #MeToo and the Time’s Up Movement, it’s only understandable that the media, and the rest of the world, start placing a greater light on sexual harassment allegations instead of letting them slide.

Furthermore, I must say that the use of the phrase “out of proportion” is highly inappropriate. Those men that were sent to Haiti were trusted to try and make the situation there better and not try and make it worse. People and organisations across the globe put their money into NGOs like Oxfam because they trust that they know how to help the maximum number of people possible. If you can’t trust a global NGO not to abuse their position, then do they really deserve to have that funding to begin with?

Instead of simply passing blame, Oxfam should have made more of stand on not allowing their employees to do such a thing and should have disciplined them more harshly. Some of the workers were allowed to resign with dignity so they could leave for other aid jobs in order to not tarnish Oxfam’s reputation. However, by allowing this to happen, they did the exact opposite as their reputation has been lowered even more because of this ‘cover up’. If they had disciplined them more harshly, Oxfam’s reputation may have been saved as they could have been viewed as saviours and not corporate conspirators.

Today, the BBC is reporting on the discussion happening between the International Development Committee and the Oxfam bosses. I think that the Oxfam International Director Winnie Byanyima is handling the crisis very well as she seems truly apologetic and “ashamed” of the actions of the charity. However, I still retain the idea that Mark Goulding is not making matters better for Oxfam but rather much worse. When Conservative MP Pauline Latham asked him about how they didn’t report the situation to the Haiti authorities, Goulding responded saying that the women had been interviewed and there was “no evidence [that] they were under 18″. This implies that because the women themselves were not minors, it was not a case worth reporting suggesting that the women themselves didn’t deserve justice. Statements such as these should not be made but rather he could have acknowledged that it was a mistake and that Oxfam would be sure to report such cases to the local authorities immediately if this were to ever happen again. Yes, that would mean he would have to take the blame and yes that might take a hit to their reputation but it’s a better plan for the long-term then alleviating the blame onto other parties.

On the other hand, KFC has recently experienced a chicken shortage which has become a crisis that they are handling far better than the Oxfam are handling their crisis (albeit they are different scenarios). Following a contract change from Bidvest to DHL as KFC’s distributors for their chicken, a breakdown of this new supply contract has caused two-thirds of the UK KFC restaurants to close down.

Where KFC are succeeding, and Oxfam are not is the fact that KFC is acknowledging the mistake and the delays and aren’t alleviating blame on others or their partners whereas blaming others seems to be the prime strategy of Mark Goulding. They haven’t thrown their new delivery contract under the bus rather they have admitted that delivering to 900 different restaurants is “complex”. It is highly ironic, however, that the corporate global organisation is reacting courteously to the crisis whereas the global aid helpers trained to help others are acting defensive and inappropriate.

In addition, KFC is helping their customers as much as possible as the website has provided a link for people to find their nearest restaurant that is still open. This is a very smart strategy, so customers won’t be aggravated when they arrive at their local restaurant only to find it closed.

To conclude, the main reason, I believe, that Oxfam’s reputation- and donations- seem to be plummeting further by the day is because of the actions and words of some of the bosses in charge. It makes Oxfam seem… unapproachable and cruel and those are the very last words that a charity should want attached to their reputation.


  • Beverly Fletcher February 22, 2018 @ 11:18 am

    Well said. Oxfam is highly-politicised and that really is it’s Achilles Heel. Amongst it’s stated aims it declares itself ‘anti-capitalism’ and ‘anti-austerity’ all the while accepting in the region of £30m from UK government. It’s not a charity in the accepted sense of the word, in fact Oxfam is part of the Civil Service, unlike KFC who are a business and understand the need to look after the people using their services. An object lesson for all publicly-funded organisations. The liberal elite who run this and other ‘charities’ have only themselves to blame for the way they have abused and exploited the privileged position they hold. And still Haiti is in chaos all these years after the event.

  • Sarah February 22, 2018 @ 8:28 pm

    Very interesting and well put article. Saddening to know this is going on.

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