Oxfam: We're really sorry for covering up those staff organized orgies in Haiti

Last week I wrote about the scandal engulfing international relief charity Oxfam. A report that appeared in the London Times revealed that Oxfam had learned in 2011 that its staff in Haiti were hiring prostitutes and even holding orgies at a property rented for Oxfam staff. Some of the girls involved were reportedly under the age of 16. Rather than report the behavior to Haitian authorities, Oxfam appears to have engaged in a cover-up which made sure details of the incidents didn’t come out (until this month). The senior staffer in charge of the entire Oxfam effort in Haiti was allowed to resign and found a job at another aid agency.

Today, the head of Oxfam, Mark Goldring, appeared before the International Development Committee in London and apologized repeatedly for the failure of his organization. From the BBC:

Mr Goldring and two other senior Oxfam executives faced an uncomfortable morning of questions from MPs about the sexual misconduct of the charity’s workers in Haiti after the earthquake in 2010.

He also apologised for remarks made about murdering babies in cots, which he made when defending Oxfam.

In an interview with the Guardian last week, he said: “The intensity and ferocity of the attack makes you wonder, what did we do? We murdered babies in their cots?”

Mr Goldring, who joined the charity as chief executive in 2013, said he was “deeply sorry” for the comments that he had made while “under stress”…

Of the scandal, he said: “I am sorry, we are sorry, for the damage Oxfam has done both to the people of Haiti but also to wider efforts for aid and development by possibly undermining public support.”

He denied there had been a cover-up, saying Oxfam had been trying to deliver a huge programme with 500 staff, and his predecessors would have believed they were making the right decision at the time. “I don’t defend that decision,” he said.

Oxfam is in an apologetic mood because their government funding, which amounts to tens of millions of dollars, has been suspended. Goldring revealed today that the charity has also lost support from around 7,000 individual donors. From the Associated Press:

The scandal has shaken the aid group to the core, with the government suspending funding for the agency.

In addition, Oxfam said Tuesday that about 7,000 individual donors have canceled regular donations in the past 10 days and some corporate sponsors are reserving judgment.

Seven Oxfam workers were fired or resigned after a whistleblower accused staff members of misconduct while working in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake that devastated the country. Government officials and Britain’s charity regulator have said that Oxfam didn’t tell them the allegations included sexual misconduct until Britain’s Times newspaper revealed details of the case earlier this month.

Goldring said that with hindsight, the charity’s leaders made the wrong call at the time of their initial investigation about how much information to give to the public and government authorities. But he said he believed those decisions were made in the interest of continuing vital aid to desperate people.

Don’t you see? Oxfam had to lie! It was the only way to prevent an interruption of relief efforts. Reasoning like that could be used to justify the cover-up of almost anything. In this case, the agency supposed to provide relief was allegedly raping underage girls. Why is Goldring still tacking on this suggestion that the decision not to call in Haitian authorities made a certain sense at the time? Why is denying there was a cover-up when details of the nature of the allegations weren’t given to government officials? And Goldring’s comment about the press coverage (“…what did we do? We murdered babies in their cots?”) also suggests he feels this is much ado about nothing.

I’m sure Oxfam does some good work but people are right to cut off their donations so long as the current leadership is downplaying and implicitly defending their past efforts to insulate staff from consequences for their very bad behavior. Frankly, if Goldring still doesn’t get it, he shouldn’t be in his position.