Once again charities are in the news, and sadly not in a good way. This time it is Oxfam and the scandal of alleged sexual exploitation in Haiti after the earthquake in 2010 and the subsequent cover up. The story is still making headlines more than a week after it broke. This reflects perhaps the strength of feeling regarding the abuse of trust, together with an accumulating trend of opprobrium for sex scandals in media, politics, religion, education, business and now the Not-for-Profit sector.
The scandal is a useful reminder of the high public standards that are expected in charities. During the week an Oxfam representative on a morning chat show tried to deflect the criticism by pointing towards celebrities, politicians and other charities as evidence of a societal problem. Eamonn Holmes went on a ‘no-nonsense rant’ and was widely praised for his responses:
“And I put it to you, this is not about money for you, for them or anything else, you’ve not only taken people’s money, you have taken people’s sympathy, their whole caring attitude, their stress and you have messed it up. You have betrayed them. What we’re talking about is people who have sent heroes into areas, where people were dying, where people were starving, where lives were ruined and these heroes were exchanging aid for sexual favours. That is worse than Hollywood, that’s worse than what’s going off politically.”
All organisations have their challenges and the point that charities are not immune from the fallibility of human conduct is a good one. However, there is a feeling that sexual misconduct or other scandals are more understandable in other areas of public life.
All charities have at their heart the desire to ‘do good’. This is a timely reminder that their achievements can be undone very quickly should their standards (either actual or perceived) fall short of the higher levels expected in the Not-for-Profit sector.