Whistleblowers allege bullying if they complained
Oxfam turned a “blind eye” to allegations of misconduct in Iraq, a new report alleges.
Whistleblowers said complaints by staff were met with repeated bullying, verbal abuse, and threats of dismissal or bad references against them.
They told The New Humanitarian that individual concerns from workers in Iraq had been raised as far back as 2015, but the organisation made no significant changes, despite the joint grievance – filed by the Unite union to Oxfam in July – as well as warnings from an independent commission in June 2019 that the NGO should investigate serious allegations against senior staff in Iraq.
The charity said it investigated the 2019 allegations and it has had regular meetings in recent months with those representing the complainants.
One source said a senior manager said “what happens in Iraq, stays in Iraq,” on learning that misconduct allegations had been raised.
The former Oxfam worker alleged that the aid charity turned a blind eye to the manager’s behaviour for years because the person had been successful at raising donor funds.
Two others said they also heard the manager use the same phrase.
The Iraq whistleblowers said they decided to break their silence after reports earlier in the month that two senior Oxfam staff in the Kinshasa office had been suspended amid complaints of sexual exploitation, harassment, bullying, and fraud in an independent investigation that began in November.
There were no known allegations of sexual misconduct raised in Iraq, the whistleblowers said.
An Oxfam spokesperson said: “We took the concerns raised by staff and shared by the Independent Commission extremely seriously. We investigate all allegations and take action where they are upheld. Action can range from dismissal to training to address inappropriate behaviour.
“In line with best practice, we do not comment on the detail of cases involving allegations of abuse of power. We publish our global safeguarding data every six months including the total and type of allegations as well as action taken on closed, substantiated cases.
“Providing support for survivors and witnesses is a key priority. We have introduced steps to ensure they are kept informed as much as possible while meeting our legal and HR responsibilities.”