Reputation Control: Oxfam’s Haiti Sex Scandal
In recent news, Oxfam’s reputation for humanitarian assistance and international crises has been blackened with headlines reading Oxfam Haiti Scandal (BBC News), Aid workers raping and sexually exploiting children (Independent), and Haiti Director Admitted Using Prostitutes (Reuters). Yesterday, the news read that Oxfam have been “suspended” or “banned” from undergoing any further work within the country.
Oxfam have gone from one of the most globally respected charities, fronted and endorsed by some of the biggest names in Hollywood, to an organisation “facing obliteration” as it has come to light that Oxfam’s employees and volunteers allegedly engaged in sexual abuse and misconduct that took place in Haiti, following the 7.3 magnitude earthquake disaster in 2010.
Reports are showing that the charity could face losing tens of millions of pounds of annual funding from UK and EU governments. Hundreds and thousands of individuals are cancelling their monthly direct debit donations because of the news leak; most publicly, Minnie Driver stepped down as ambassador for the charity due to the news. According to the Telegraph, Robin Swinbank, Managing Partner of The Counsel House, reputation and crisis management consultants, told the Telegraph the unfolding crisis could prove terminal for Oxfam.
The news of Oxfam’s misdemeanour accentuates the importance of reputation control and crisis management for both profit and not for profit organisations.
GAD Partner Jonathan Abrams specialises in intellectual property law and company brand and reputation protection. He reiterates that reputation management should be a fundamental operation for high-profile organisations. A reputation is an asset, particularly Oxfam’s, who rely on their clean history and philanthropic culture to maintain donations from around the world. He states that “once again this is another example of how the actions of a minority of individuals can tarnish the reputation of a highly-regarded and internationally respected organisation.”
The approach taken in circumstances like Oxfam’s is critical to the future of the charity. The organisation has recently responded with a concise acknowledgement and an apology for what has happened. Jonathan advises that “the best protocol under such circumstances is to take swift action against the individuals concerned and provide full public transparency to mitigate the risks of the misconduct reoccurring in the media”. This said, the scandal will be lingering in the media for few years and Oxfam will need to be reputably flawless to have this forgotten even within the next decade.
Jonathan states that reputation control should have taken place long before the allegations became public knowledge. Since the scandal broke, 26 claims of recent and historical sexual misconduct involving Oxfam employees have been made. To date, the Charity Commission are investigating the way in which Oxfam handled the allegations despite the heads of the organisation’s denial of their attempt to cover up rumours. The charity should also receive the decision within a few months on whether they will be allowed to do further work for Haiti.
For any further information on reputation management and brand protection, email Jonathan Abrams on [email protected]