​Oxfam Scandal Affects the Whole Charity Sector

​Oxfam Scandal Affects the Whole Charity Sector

The recent revelations and scandal regarding Oxfam and other charities working overseas has a direct affect upon the trust and confidence that everyone has in charities generally. Headlines such as "Oxfam Faces Day of Reckoning" on Monday 12th February 2018 on the front cover of the i Newspaper will cause many people to doubt whether they should continue to make contributions towards not just Oxfam and charities working abroad but also those closer to home. The Charity Commission and the Government are now looking into the situation with the distinct possibility of funding being cut.

As highlighted at our recent Charities Briefing dealing with the risks of being a charity the loss of reputation for individual charities but also the charity sector as a whole can have devastating effects. All charities are reliant on donations and for that to continue charities need to have public trust and confidence in what they are doing. A key part of that is for each charity to have proper governance and in particular safeguarding policies in place to protect their staff and beneficiaries. Proper governance is not an "optional extra" and is essential for all charities of all sizes.

The Haiti Sex Scandal also illustrates that charities and those working for charities are not (and should not be) immune from criminal and other laws that apply to everyone. Safeguarding staff and beneficiaries is as important for charities as it is for any other organisation and perhaps more so given the vulnerable groups that charities often work with. Such a large organisation as Oxfam should have in place proper policies and procedures but for smaller charities that is not automatic and it is the responsibility of all trustees to ensure that their own charity has proper governance and procedures including a comprehensive safeguarding policy. A code of conduct for trustees is an essential part of this but for many charities it is easy to overlook or underestimate the essential nature of "paperwork" and having sufficient and comprehensive policies in place. Another example of that on the horizon is the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May 2018. It would be easy for smaller charities to assume that as a charity they will have a "get out of jail free card" but that is not the case. Failing to comply with legislation including the GDPR can have serious repercussions on the trust and reputation of a charity of any size and must not be overlooked.

Commentary by Neale Grearson, Head of Clapham & Collinge Charities Department.

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