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Minnie Driver cuts ties with Oxfam over sex scandal

Actress Minnie Driver
Minnie Driver had travelled all over the world as an Oxfam spokesperson. Photograph: Gus Ruelas/Reuters

Minnie Driver has become the first celebrity patron of Oxfam to step down in the wake of the sexual misconduct scandal.

The 48-year-old actor, who was one of the charity’s 16 ambassadors, said she was “in no uncertain terms” withdrawing her support for the charity despite working with it for more than 20 years.

On Twitter, Driver said: “All I can tell you about this awful revelation about Oxfam is that I am devastated.

What happened in Haiti?

Oxfam has been accused of covering up an inquiry into whether its staff used sex workers in Haiti in 2011 during a relief effort following the previous year’s earthquake. It is alleged those who were paid by the aid workers may have been underage. An investigation by the Times found that Oxfam had allowed three men to resign and sacked four others for gross misconduct after an inquiry into sexual exploitation, the downloading of pornography, bullying and intimidation.

How much money could Oxfam lose?

The government has threatened to cut funds to Oxfam unless it shows “moral leadership”. In 2016-17, Oxfam’s income was £408.6m, according to its annual report, including £31.7m from the DfID. Aidan Warner of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations said: “They will be concerned not just about the money but the endorsement that the relationship with DfID represents, and they are clearly working hard to regain the confidence of the government as well as the public.” 

How much does the DfID give to NGOs?

Last year the UK government dedicated £13.3bn to international aid. About £1.2bn of UK aid is spent annually through NGOs. In 2016, the UK was one of only six countries to spend 0.7% of gross national income on aid, a target set by the UN for all developed countries. Penny Mordaunt, the international development secretary, has said the UK remains committed to this target, despite some Tory MPs calling for it to be dropped.

Should other NGOs be worried?

A number have now been implicated. Some of the employees involved in the Haiti case went on to work for other NGOs. Over the weekend, the Sunday Times also reported that more than 120 workers from Britain’s leading charities have been accused of sexual abuse in the past year. Save the Children, which in 2016 secured multi-year contracts worth £91m with the government, had 31 cases, 10 of which were referred to the police. The British Red Cross, which admitted a “small number of cases of harassment reported in the UK”, received £16.3m in DfID funding.

“Devastated for the women who were used by people sent there to help them [and] devastated by the response of an organisation that I have been raising awareness for since I was 9 years old.”

The development came as the international development secretary, Penny Mordaunt, is to pledge £5m in government funding to help protect vulnerable children across the globe. Mordaunt is set to announce the funding following a speech in Stockholm heavily criticising abuse in the aid sector on Wednesday.

Driver had attended previously attended high-profile fundraising events for Oxfam in Los Angeles and New York, and travelled to Cambodia and Thailand for the Make Trade Fair campaign.

Her profile on the charity’s website said she had been a spokesperson on trade justice and making world trade rules work for developing nations.

In a statement, Driver further explained her decision, saying she was “nothing short of horrified” by the allegations against Oxfam International.

The statement continued: “In no uncertain terms do I plan to continue my support of this organisation or its leaders. And though it is unfortunate that after 20 years I am no longer able to advocate and defend through this specific framework, social and economic injustice is more globally prevalent than ever.

“I certainly will not let the abhorrent mistakes of a troubling organisation stop me or anyone else from working with good people in this space to support a population of human beings around the world that needs our help.”

In a statement, Oxfam said: “Minnie Driver has been a devoted Oxfam supporter for many years, and we are grateful for her commitment to ending global poverty.

“Her decision to step down as an Oxfam Ambassador saddens us deeply, but we also understand and respect her choice.

“As an organisation, we are ashamed by the actions of some of our staff and are more committed now than ever to learn from our mistakes and ensure we uphold the highest levels of safeguarding standards in our work around the world.”

On Wednesday representatives from international aid agencies and ministers from more than 20 countries will be present at the Agenda 2030 for Children: End Violence Solutions Summit when Mordaunt is expected to call the allegations about Oxfam staff “horrifying”.

She will say: “I know that everyone here today, and decent people across the international development sector, share my disgust at these appalling violations. And share my determination to lead a full, comprehensive and systematic response to them.

“The sexual exploitation of vulnerable people, vulnerable children, is never acceptable. But when it is perpetrated by people in positions of power, people we entrust to help and protect, it rightly sickens and disgusts. And compels us to take action.”

She is also expected to say: “Unless you safeguard everyone your organisation comes into contact with, including beneficiaries, staff and volunteers – we will not fund you. Unless you create a culture that prioritises the safety of vulnerable people and ensures victims and whistleblowers can come forward without fear – we will not work with you. And unless you report every serious incident or allegation, no matter how damaging to your reputation – we cannot be partners.”

She will add: “Sexual abuse and exploitation is an issue the entire development sector needs to confront.”

The £5m from the aid budget will go to the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children – a network of governments, aid agencies, foundations and researchers working to stamp out child abuse across the globe.

In 2016, the organisation pledged to work together to end “violence against children in every country, every community and every family”.

This article titled "Minnie Driver cuts ties with Oxfam over sex scandal" was written by Nicola Slawson, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 13 February 2018 10.51pm

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