CEO Blog

How we’re working to prevent abuse, protect and empower people

A message from Oxfam Ireland Chief Executive, Jim Clarken

In Ghana, mother-of-two Christina grows maize to earn a living. She is one of the many female farmers in her community being trained by Oxfam to overcome challenges such as climate change. Learning new farming techniques ensures that Christina can continue to provide for her children and enable them to live a life free from poverty.Photo: Nana Kofi Acquah/Oxfam 

In my ten years at Oxfam Ireland, I have seen first-hand the incredible impact of our supporter’s generosity. From our live-saving work in times of hunger, drought, disaster and conflict to our long-term development programmes that help people lift themselves out of poverty as well as advocacy that tackles the injustices that keep people poor.  

None of this important work would be possible without a movement of people across the island of Ireland who donate, shop, volunteer and speak out with us. We’re so grateful.

We know that in supporting us, you’re trusting us to deliver programmes that put people’s safety and dignity at its core. We take that seriously and are continually working to strengthen our safeguarding systems, improve our culture and protect and empower people.

To ensure we are the best we can be, we launched a comprehensive action plan in February 2018 to review and update our safeguarding systems across the global confederation.

As part of this, we established an Independent Commission on Sexual Misconduct led by international women’s rights experts and asked them to hold us to the highest standards in reviewing all aspects of our safeguarding policies and practices.  

We welcome the findings in their final report and are ready to implement their recommendations, many of which we’ve already acted on. We are galvanised by the Commission’s positive acknowledgement of our progress to date and are more determined than ever to play a leadership role in safeguarding.

We have worked hard to improve our policies and procedures and build a positive culture in a global and diverse organisation.   

In Oxfam Ireland, we have created a designated safeguarding team to support staff and volunteers; completed an all-staff survey on culture and delivered workshops on our values. As part of the international organisation, we have increased budget, resources and staff to drive culture change across the entire confederation; introduced new policies on child safeguarding, protection, sexual diversity, and ethical content gathering and reformed our HR systems to strengthen our referencing processes and better recruit and train staff and volunteers with a greater focus on behaviours, culture and safeguarding.

And we won’t stop there. 

It is our priority to ensure that our staff, volunteers, partners and those we serve are safe and valued and we will not tolerate abuse of any kind in our workplace or programmes. 

We will continue to implement and champion policies and procedures in line with national and international best practice and create a culture where everyone feels safe, respected and empowered.

As always, we remain dedicated to making a positive impact on the lives of millions of people every year. We will not let the deplorable behaviour of a few stand in the way of our work to beat poverty, save lives when disaster strikes and end the injustices that trap people in poverty.

Thank you for standing in solidarity with us. 

To read more about Oxfam’s progress against its comprehensive action plan on safeguarding, visit: oxfamireland.org/impact

G20 Finance Ministers discusstax reforms

 
G20 Finance Ministers are expected to give the green light to a new round of negotiations on international tax reforms at a meeting in Fukuoka, Japan on 8 - 9 June, 2019, in line with OECD recommendations issued in May. 
 
For the first time countries will debate proposals for fundamental reforms such as where a companies’ profits are taxed and whether to set a global minimum effective corporate tax rate.
 
Jim Clarken, Oxfam Ireland Chief Executive, said:
 
“This new round of global tax negotiations offers a unique chance to put a stop to corporate tax dodging and damaging tax competition. If they get it right this could mark the beginning of a new fairer tax era where poor countries are able to claim their fair share of corporate tax revenues – and release the funds they need to tackle poverty and inequality. Governments must not waste this opportunity.
 
“The UN has said that developing countries lose around $100 billion each year as a result of global corporate tax avoidance. This shortfall leaves developing countries without the revenue to provide the vital healthcare, education and infrastructure needed to tackle poverty and inequality.  Women and girls are most effected by the lack of these services, as recently highlighted by a European Parliament report on taxation policies and gender equality.
 
“If we look at Ireland, our corporate tax rate has attracted international investment that generates much-needed jobs and prosperity. However, the parallel system of tax loopholes needs to be reformed because of the knock-on effect that it has on some of the poorest communities in the world.
 
“A global consensus has seen efforts to reform the global tax system take place at the OECD, where Ireland also participates. G20 Finance Ministers need to take the opportunity this weekend to get behind reforms that will usher in a new corporate tax era.”
 
ENDS 
 
CONTACT: Nyle Lennon, nyle.lennon@oxfam.org,   083 197 5107.
 
Notes to editors
 
An Oxfam briefing note - 'Tax Revolution?' -  which provides more details on the negotiations and what is at stake is available on request.

An update for our valued supporters

A note from Jim Clarken, Oxfam Ireland Chief Executive

The stories of sexual misconduct unfolding in the media are appalling and they have personally rocked me and everyone at Oxfam Ireland. 

The behaviour of some staff employed by Oxfam Great Britain in Haiti in 2011 and in Chad in 2006 was totally unacceptable, contrary to our values and the high standards we expect of our staff. 

We want to make it very clear - we completely condemn any form of abuse against the people we work to protect and support. We feel deep shame in the behaviour of those who failed to uphold our values, values I know that you, our supporters, share. 

I feel great responsibility in the trust that you place in us and I know that this awful situation may have damaged that. We promise to continue to be open and transparent and rebuild any trust lost. We are also absolutely committed to ensuring that we continue to learn and improve as an organisation.  

No staff employed by Oxfam Ireland were involved in these cases and they did not involve the misuse of public funds. All of the money you helped to raise for Haiti was spent as planned on the relief response to the 2010 earthquake.

We have a zero-tolerance approach to sexual misconduct and will not stand for any kind of harassment of staff, partners, volunteers or those we serve.

It is my priority to ensure that our staff, volunteers and the people we work for are safe and valued and we have several safeguarding policies in operation to prevent harassment and abuse, including a prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse policy. Staff and volunteers are encouraged to raise any concerns they may have without reprisal and we have a robust whistleblowing policy in place.  

I want to assure you that this incident does not represent Oxfam or what we stand for. The deplorable actions of a small number of people will not stop the vital work against poverty and injustice worldwide that you contribute to everyday.

Together, I am confident that we will overcome this challenge and we remain grateful for your commitment to our work on behalf of the world’s poorest people. 

Thank you so much for your ongoing support,

Jim Clarken
Chief Executive
Oxfam Ireland

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Hope in a year of unprecedented disaster

This year has been one of unprecedented disasters. From drought to famine, hurricanes to war, the global news cycle has been dominated by heart-breaking stories of people caught up in unimaginable situations.
 
But in the midst of all this, our life-saving and life-changing work is providing hope thanks to the ongoing generosity of our supporters and the Irish government. 
 
Right now, we’re providing clean water, sanitation and shelter to thousands of Rohingya people who have fled to Bangladesh. Over 400,000 people have crossed the border from Myanmar in the last four weeks, doubling the number of people seeking refuge in the south east of the country. 
 
Homeless and hungry, people are arriving physically and emotionally traumatised, in desperate need of essentials like water and food and a place to lay their heads. Women, children, older people and those with disabilities are especially vulnerable. And the situation is even more desperate due to recent heavy rains in Bangladesh, with some of the settlements on hillsides and roads at risk from mudslides. 
 
(Top) Dilenia Florimón together with her daughter in the middle of what remained of her house, two days after Hurricane Irma struck the community of Boba in the province of María Trinidad Sánchez, Dominican Republic. Photo: Fran Afonso / Oxfam. (Bottom-left) Litter along the beach of Corniers Plage near Cap Haitien, the morning after Hurricane Irma hit. Photo: Jean Bernard Simmonet. (Bottom-right) A powerful wave crashes into the already-flooded Vevado district of Havana during Hurricane Irma. Photo: Erislandys Igarza / Oxfam.
 
Elsewhere, in the Caribbean, the clean-up after Hurricane Irma – one of the most powerful storms in a decade – was hampered by the onslaught of Hurricane Maria, which followed when many of the islands were still reeling from Irma. The devastation wreaked by Irma claimed the lives of 38 people across the Caribbean islands, with ten deaths in Cuba alone. The islands’ tourism, energy and agricultural sectors have been severely impacted, with the northern coast and the eastern and central regions bearing the brunt. 
 
In all, around two million Cubans had to leave their homes and 50,000 seek refuge at evacuation centres. Many people, whose livelihoods have been disrupted, have since returned to their homes to find them destroyed. Haiti and the Dominican Republic, where Oxfam is on the ground, were also badly hit by flooding and high winds. 
 
(Left) Rescuers, firefighters, policemen, soldiers and volunteers remove rubble and debris from a flattened building in search of survivors after a powerful quake in Mexico City.Photo: Alfredo strella/AFP/Getty Images. (Right) At least 230 people total have been killed across the region, and rescue crews continue to search for survivors. Photo: Karl Byrnison/Oxfam México
 
Tragically, this appalling humanitarian disaster was quickly followed by another when a 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck Mexico City and the neighbouring state of Morelos. This was the second earthquake to hit the country in less than two weeks. Over 230 men, women and children have been killed, hundreds more have been injured and buildings, including hospitals and schools, have been reduced to rubble.
 
(Left) Mother-of-four Tahrir (25) holds her baby in Padding, in Jonglei, South Sudan. Tahrir, who lives with her husband, mother-in-law and children, used to have a farm and cattle. Then the war started and her cows were stolen. She says: “I can’t buy food. Now we survive on what we find in the wild.” Photo: Albert González Farran/Oxfam. (Right) These mothers and children are part of a large group of refugees who fled violence in their villages in recent months. More than 2.6 million people in Nigeria, including 1.5 million children, fled their homes for safety. Now they find themselves facing new dangers such as hunger and malnutrition. Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam.
 
These terrible crises are quite rightly dominating the headlines. However, a disaster of epic proportions continues to unfold in the background. Across northeast Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, 30 million people are facing starvation. The primary driver of these hunger crises is conflict, although in Somalia it is drought. In February, famine was declared in South Sudan and while it has since been halted, people are still living on the brink. 
 
So far 2017 has brought terrible pain to many people. But we are there to help in this time of need. Oxfam is on the ground in all of the countries mentioned above as well as in countless more. 
 
When emergency strikes, we’re there, assessing the damage and providing what’s needed most. Whether it’s clean water and toilets to prevent the spread of deadly diseases or other essentials like food, shelter or information, we make sure people hit by disaster are safe, protected and have dignity. 
 
We couldn’t do this without you and we need your help now more than ever. Let’s bring hope to even more people.
 
Please give what you can, today:
 
 
Thank you. 
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Europe’s shame: Hundreds more lives lost at sea exactly 1 year on from Lampedusa tragedy

One year to the day after 800 people drowned off the Italian island Lampedusa, news of another awful tragedy in the Mediterranean has emerged.

Reports of hundreds dead after four boats capsized underline how Europe is still failing to deal effectively with the migration crisis in a way that puts human lives first.

Today Oxfam published a new report ('EU hotspots spread fear and doubt’) which found that vulnerable people seeking safety and dignity remain at risk of death, torture and exploitation as they try to reach and cross the Mediterranean.

The EU’s response to the Lampedusa drownings this day last year and the Mediterranean crisis as a whole has yielded successive emergency summits, beefing up Europe’s border security and bringing in a ‘hotspot’ plan for Italy and Greece where asylum claims are expedited with a focus on swift rejections. 

Three hotspots have been functioning in Sicily since September 2015, but the European and Italian authorities in charge of them have yet to agree a clear legal framework for how they are to operate. This leaves a serious gap in clarity on how this system is ensuring respect for Italian, European and international law. The Italian parliament was challenged on this – with no response forthcoming.

Meanwhile, the system has failed to protect the numbers of people willing to go to extraordinary lengths to protect themselves and their families. Desperate and often already traumatised by what they are leaving behind, they face further anguish, fear and brutality on their journey to safety.

According to the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, migrants detained in the country face torture, beatings and forced labour. Recently four migrants were shot dead and 20 wounded while trying to escape a detention centre. These are innocent civilians – mothers, grandparents and teenagers who simply want a better life, free from conflict and poverty.

Filsim, a 22-year-old woman who travelled alone from Somalia to Italy, said: “I spent eight months in Libya. We were imprisoned by a gang of traffickers when we arrived in the country. They would leave us for two or three days without food and water, and they beat us for fun. I have so many scars on my breast.”

Filsim was finally released when her family managed to pay an US$800 (approx. €710/£560) ransom to the traffickers. She then had to pay US$1,000 (approx. €885/£700) for the trip to Italy.

The crossing between Libya and Italy is the deadliest sea route in the world and the death toll for 2016 had before today already reached 219 people with nearly 10,000 people attempting to use this route to reach Europe in March alone. Total arrivals to Italy in the first quarter of 2016 are almost double the number of arrivals in the same period in 2015. This proves that the policies of deterrence adopted by the EU do not work.

A woman and child arrive in Lesbos, Greece. Desperately seeking safety and refuge in a new country, some are lucky enough to get to beaches where they face volunteer groups across Europe, others are not so lucky. Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

Many of those who survive the journey face a legal limbo once in Europe. The expedited approach of the hotspots is yielding faster decisions and more expulsions, but as a result many people are being shut out of the asylum system, left stranded and even more vulnerable.

Bakari, from Gambia, said: “After two days, they gave us the paper [the expulsion order to return] and they put us out on the street without any explanation. There were seven of us, and we slept at the train station in Catania for three months.”

According to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, fear often prevents migrants from seeking help and means that those responsible for exploiting migrants can act with impunity – with women left particularly vulnerable to abuse – while people who seek to assist undocumented migrants can face criminal charges.

By failing to provide safe and legal passage, Europe has acted shamefully – putting political interests before human beings. 

Only by providing routes for people to reach Europe that are safe, legal and humane can we prevent further loss of life like today’s tragedy. 

Jim Clarken is CEO of Oxfam Ireland.

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