• 29th July 2019

Compliance failings: lessons for us all from Oxfam and other industries (part one)

Safecall is delighted be able to call upon experienced professionals such as Keely Hibbitt, a well-respected legal & compliance expert, who fully understands the real challenges faced by those with compliance, investigations and HR roles. Combining her legal expertise with her hands-on compliance experience she brings new insights and a pragmatic client-side viewpoint, which complements the knowledge and viewpoint of the Safecall team.

In the first of a three part series, Keely explains her recommendations for organisations of all types in light of the recent Oxfam failings.

The Charity Commission for England and Wales has published the findings of its statutory inquiry into allegations of sexual misconduct by Oxfam GB staff in Haiti. Following the scandal, thousands of donors stopped providing funding to Oxfam GB forcing it to scale back its charitable programmes and find £16million of savings, approximately 10% of its relevant income.

Whilst Oxfam GB may differ in mission, funding and corporate structure to organisations such as Volkswagen, Barclays and Rolls Royce (to name a few), there are several disappointing similarities between their compliance failings.  The report is yet another reminder of what all organisations should be focussing on.

Early warning signs

Ignore at your peril.  It was clear there were issues in Haiti before the serious allegations were raised by a whistleblower.  The concerns of local staff were ignored and, as a result of a culture where inappropriate behaviour was tolerated, the behaviour worsened.  Staff did not feel empowered to speak up nor did they have the confidence in management to be able to deal with the issues.

There are always early warning signs: look deeper into areas where there are multiple low-level issues.  These are often indicative of a poor culture or inappropriate behaviour.  If you don’t already, track low level issues using as many data sources as possible (compliance, HR, audit etc.) to spot problem areas. 

Investigation basics

Build trust in your whistleblowing system.  The Inquiry observed that if victims did have the confidence to speak up, they were often concerned they will not be genuinely listened to or that processes and procedures which exist to protect them will not be implemented.  This was reflected in the seemingly low number of whistleblowing reports made.

Having a whistleblowing system is just the first step in enabling individuals to speak up.  How an organisation deals with whistleblowers and their allegations are crucial to building confidence in the system. Understand how your organisation does this by obtaining feedback from named whistleblowers and tracking their career progression within your organisation after they have spoken up.

Bring the A Team. Oxfam GB were also criticised for their investigatory response to the allegations.  The investigation team were not experienced in the relevant area, failed to keep the investigation confidential and were poor at record-keeping and report-writing. 

Ensure the person(s) investigating the issue are sufficiently qualified/experienced.  If they are not, consider whether additional/external resource should be used.  Remind all those working on an investigation of the importance of confidentiality and keeping accurate records.  In addition to protecting the integrity of the investigation, this is also particularly important if a report may need to be made to a regulator.

In the second article from this series Keely explores how an organisation can action the changes identified through its research and ensure a tailored approach suitable for its audience.

About the author

Keely Hibbitt is a legal and compliance consultant with over 20 years of experience. She worked at law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner for 10 years being promoted to Partner before moving in-house as Head of Group Legal at Balfour Beatty. Safecall have come together with Keely to gain her first-hand knowledge of both the coal-face and legal challenges face organisations in the ever changing compliance landscape.