Counting the Cost

It is hard to quantify the cost to Oxfam following claims about their (mis)handling of senior staff accused of paying for sex in earthquake torn Haiti.

The charity stands accused of offering a ‘phased and dignified exit’ to the former country director, despite his admission to using prostitutes, following an internal review in 2011. Bosses reportedly said that sacking him would have “potentially serious implications” for the charity’s reputation. This comment rings uncomfortably true today as the charity, which receives £300m in government funds and public donations every year, scrambles to reassure supporters it has done the right thing in response to these claims.

This episode demonstrates the importance of staff understanding and living by the vision, values and ethos of the places where they work.

The failings of a few can have devastating consequences for the many and mud sticks, long eclipsing any success, with the memory of those who got it badly wrong. Charities are particularly susceptible to the damaging impact of staff misbehaviour so when actions fall far short, organisations must work quickly to publicly address and honestly respond to those failings. Oxfam announced at the time that a small number of staff had left after the misconduct investigation. But the charity did not disclose sexual misconduct. In saying nothing about staff misbehaviour, organisations are at risk of reputational damage far worse than simply telling all. And it’s worth remembering that not telling the whole truth can also come back to haunt you.