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A reputational crisis caused by a safeguarding failure

Updated: Mar 19, 2018

Oxfam’s current predicament is potentially very significant for the whole of the charity aid sector, and its own reputation has taken a serious hit. Reports in papers today (February 13th) also suggest that safeguarding concerns also extend beyond those widely reported in Haiti and Chad to the abuse of a small number of young people who volunteered in local shops, at the hands of adult volunteers. 12 reported cases between 2012 and 2014.

Oxfam is a long established national charity with a previously well respected brand and yet it now finds itself under intense scrutiny for failing to report fully concerning incidents to the Charity Commission, apparently failing to listen to what some of its staff were telling senior managers and not handling the allegations properly. The Charity Commission has now launched a statutory enquiry.

The reputational damage that Oxfam has suffered may well start to be reflected in public and corporate discomfort about being seen to support the organisation financially. The board of trustees will face some searching questions about their governance arrangements and it will take some time for the organisation to recover.

The lesson for our church is obvious. If we don’t listen with care to what people who work directly with children, young people and vulnerable adults are telling us about the behaviour of others that they have witnessed, and we don’t act with appropriate speed and diligence when we are told, then we can stand accused of not displaying the moral leadership that the government has demanded. This is not where the church will want to find itself. Failing to see and deal with what be in plain sight may carry a significant reputational cost.

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