London: Oxfam chief executive Mark Goldring apologised on Tuesday for saying a wave of condemnation of the charity over sex abuse by its staff was disproportionate as it had not “murdered babies in their cots”.
He was being questioned by lawmakers over sexual exploitation in the aid sector following the scandal over the alleged use of prostitutes in Haiti in 2011 in the aftermath of the island’s earthquake.
Opposition Labour politician and International Development committee chair Stephen Twigg said Goldring’s comments in a newspaper interview were regarded by many as “grossly inappropriate”.
The Oxfam boss had been quoted as saying by Saturday’s Guardian: “The intensity and ferocity of the attacks makes you wonder, what did we do? We murdered babies in their cots?” He added: “Certainly the scale and intensity of the attacks feels out of proportion to the level of culpability.” But on Tuesday Goldring apologised, saying he had been under stress after giving many interviews and thinking of the good work Oxfam was still doing around the world.
“I should not have said those things. It is not for Oxfam to judge issues of proportionality or motivation,” he told the committee.
“I wholeheartedly apologise for those comments, and commit to work in that greater public interest.” On Monday, the charity released the findings of an internal investigation that found the country director in Haiti, Roland Van Hauwermeiren, had admitted using prostitutes at his residence during a relief mission before resigning in 2011.
Allegations of sexual misconduct have shaken the aid sector, with Haiti’s president calling for investigations of other groups.
Britain and the European Union are reviewing the funding of Oxfam, one of the world’s biggest disaster relief charities.
Last week, Van Hauwermeiren said he felt ashamed, but added that some of the allegations in a Times newspaper report which first broke the story were untrue, and denied paying for sex with prostitutes.
Twigg said the International Development Committee would conduct a full inquiry into the issue of sexual exploitation in the aid sector.
Oxfam said Tuesday it was investigating 26 new cases of sexual misconduct which had been reported since a scandal broke earlier this month over its handling of a 2011 case in Haiti.
The British charity’s chief executive Mark Goldring told a parliamentary committee in London that 16 of the cases related to its international operation.
“There are 26 cases that have come forward ... They range in time frame from more recent events to long historic events where people did not report them at the time,” Goldring said.
“We really want people to come forward,” he added.
Goldring apologised “wholeheartedly” on behalf of Oxfam to the committee, which said it would conduct its own inquiry into abuses in the foreign aid sector.
The chief executive said safeguards had been put in place following an internal investigation in 2011 into the behaviour of some Oxfam staff in Haiti but admitted that the charity had not gone far enough.
Last week, Oxfam unveiled an action plan to tackle sexual harassment and abuse, including creating a new vetting system for staff.
The charity formally apologised to Haiti on Monday over the prostitution scandal rocking the aid charity. It expressed its “shame” and vowed to do better as it handed over a damning internal report into the allegations.
Made public earlier in the day, Oxfam’s 2011 report into the behaviour of aid workers sent to Haiti revealed that three staff had physically threatened a witness in the prostitution investigation.
Oxfam’s 2011 report, compiled in the year after aid workers were deployed to Haiti, revealed that seven staff were accused of using prostitutes at an Oxfam-funded residence.
Four staff were fired for gross misconduct and three others, including then country director Roland Van Hauwermeiren, were allowed to quit.