Oxfam sex scandal; neo-colonialism?


This and other questions have been raised as the world pours over the shocking sexual scandals, not just in Haiti, but also Chad which have involved workers of the aid organization, Oxfam. But it is becoming very clear that this type of scandal is not confined to some Oxfam workers, but other aid workers and their western aid organizations, who too often view the countries they’re working in as inferior, and the people as less than themselves, who are often at the mercy and exploitation of their aid, and in the extreme levels, to be sexually exploited in a power dynamic that is brutally colonial.

Take for example, the American Red Cross. In the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western world, Red Cross raised over $500 million for relief. With those funds, The Red Cross says it has provided homes to more than 130,000 people, but, according to an investigation done by NPR, the number of permanent homes the charity has built is six.

We see similar exploitation of funds, resources, and individuals in relief efforts from many other aid organizations, including the recent spotlight shone on Oxfam employees’ sexual misconduct in Haiti.

British international aid organization Oxfam has recently come under immense scrutiny and is possibly at risk of losing government funding after a recently published investigation by The Times. The investigation uncovered further information related to the handling of a 2011 sexual abuse and misconduct scandal.

In 2011, Oxfam published a confidential report stating that there had been a “culture of impunity” among its workers specifically “downloading pornographic and illegal material”, bullying and intimidation during its relief efforts in Haiti following a 2010 earthquake. The report also included that Roland van Hauwermeire, Oxfam’s country director for Haiti in 2010 admitted to hiring prostitutes while working in Haiti.

At the time, Van Hauwermeire and two other men incriminated in the report were allowed to resign without punishment, as Oxfam sought to avoid drawing greater attention to the problem. To make matters worse, Van Hauwermeire in particular is reported to have begun working for another international aid organization since the 2011 scandal. Oxfam is now being accused of covering up the scandal.

According to the Guardian, Secretary of State for International Development, Penny Mordaunt claims Oxfam lied in their reporting of information to her Department in 2011.

She said, “This is a historic case but it is in some respects still live. They still have information they should be giving to the authorities.” “We were not told about the nature of these events. They initially said they were investigating misconduct, and when they concluded that report they did not tell us the nature of these events. They did tell the Charity Commission there was sexually inappropriate behaviour, bullying and harassment of employees, but they did not report that to us.”

Oxfam’s lack of accountability for its workers’ actions is not only contradictory to their stated mission, but is a glaring example of the lack of value placed on Black lives, even during times of great need.

Although Oxfam has reported changes in their vetting and inducting of staff members as well as increased whistle-blowing and safeguarding procedures since the scandal, Mordaunt has threatened that Oxfam could lose their government funding unless they prove to have “moral leadership” at the top of the organization.

Workers from Oxfam were also recently accused of hiring prostitutes during 2006 relief efforts in another majority Black nation: Chad.

Oxfam, in its internal report, said it handled 87 cases of reported sexual misconduct in the past year. The problem of sexual misconduct seems to be deeply embedded within the organization, but is sadly not confined specifically to Oxfam. Former International Development Secretary, Priti Patel told BBC there was “a culture of denial in the aid sector about the exploitation and sexual abuse that has taken place historically for decades”.

This case, and the larger culture of sexual exploitation within international aid, is perfect example of modern neo-colonialism. While nations such as the UK, state they want to develop and aid underdeveloped countries like Haiti (many of which have been previously subjected to English colonialism or imperialism), it becomes easy for those in positions of power to take advantage of the vulnerable populations they are hired to serve.

With the recent #MeToo and #TimesUp movements occurring in entertainment and politics, maybe this issue of sexual abuse, will lay bare the neo-colonial type exploitation within the aid sector, where white supremacy feeds the poor in a way that consolidates a racial hierarchy, and worse still it has the brutality to demand inhumane privileges of the powerful.

Dominque Brodie