Many questions should be asked about the Oxfam scandal and the impunity of certain of its senior management and non-disclosure by those who had knowledge of their actions. However, such impropriety is not a new issue in the charity/NGO/peace-keeping sector. The United Nations have previously had to act upon allegations of peace-keepers’ involvement in sex-trafficking post the Bosnian/Serbian war and the child sex scandal in the Central African Republic and there is no doubt other sex for aid issues do exist but have not yet been disclosed. Where circumstances of poverty, disaster and a lack of structure exist, exploitation will arise, even from those who are meant to protect and serve.
Impunity can occur as many charitable and non-charitable organisations (Carillion for example) are not transparent or held accountable enough for the use of funds- whether these are public or private. Kids Company was an example of mismanagement of funds, a lack of transparency and trustee management and raised several questions as to what trustees’ obligations were and should be. As a trustee of charities that exist to assist trafficking and abused persons, transparency of actions and use of funding need to be scrutinised and it is the duty of a trustee to ensure that an organisation is adhering to its key objectives. With an Oxfam Executive Director today stating that, regarding the tax transparency initiatives, it is “A welcome step forward, but there is more work to do on tax transparency”, we must consider that transparency should exist in relation to all areas of an entity’s organisational workings and processes. Charities have to be answerable to their trustees and in turn, trustees need to understand what the ethos of the charity is, what are the objectives to be achieved by a management team and how these are to be funded and must not be fearful of raising issues that may question a management team’s ethical and moral stance.
Whilst questions about Oxfam and other charitable organisations need to be asked and the issues recently raised should not escape both scrutiny and penalty, we must not become cynical about charitable endeavours and the good that charities do. Globally and domestically, there are many small (and large) charities that are committing funds to promoting the welfare of others; to providing a secure retreat/refuge when required. Some of these charities are extremely unsung organisations and yet continue to forge ahead on limited budgets, staffing and are subject to similar accountability just as their bigger sister charities are (and the larger ones should be subject to greater accountability). Oxfam and the like must be scrutinised and reprimanded for their actions and those in the senior echelons should be questioned but we must not vilify the basic premise of charities and even Oxfam itself. When steered correctly, such organisations produce incredible results in fighting impunity and injustice – we should not let the impunity of certain individuals in Oxfam and like organisations colour these successes and the impact on lives.