• 31st July 2019

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

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. This is part two Legal & compliance consultant Keely Hibbitt has written in a series of three articles giving her recommendations for organisations of all types in light of these failings (read part one here).

In this second instalment Keely covers how to take appropriate action to and the importance of tailoring your reporting methods to your organisation.

Taking appropriate action

Take appropriate (albeit perhaps painful) action.  The Haiti Country Director was encouraged (and did) resign as a way of resolving the investigation into allegations of his sexual misconduct.  This was viewed as a way of allowing him a “phased and dignified exit” which was also best for the reputation of the charity and continued operation of the programme.  The allegations into the Country Director’s behaviour were also handled differently from those against more junior members of staff.

A full investigation into allegations, even when they involve senior staff, and appropriate and consistent sanctions are some of the most powerful ways of embedding a compliance programme.  It reinforces the importance of the programme (it is more important than any person) and empowers individuals to challenge (they can see action is taken and that poor behaviour is not tolerated).  An inappropriate decision, which in the short-term may support the business, is likely to have far more damaging results for the organisation in the longer term.

Reporting at the right level

Full and timely written reporting.  The Trustees of Oxfam GB were criticised by the Commission for failing to hold the Executive to account in respect of the seriousness of the allegations.  They were not provided with sufficient information but neither did they push for it.

In many organisations, executive and/or non-executive boards are often the only bodies that can challenge the most senior business leaders. In order to do so, board members must ensure they have enough information and ask for it if they don’t.

One size does not fit all when it comes to the reporting of serious issues.  If the issue requires a longer than usual report or reporting outside of the usual cycle, opting for this will benefit everyone involved.  Verbal briefings may be appropriate in certain circumstances but these should be followed-up in writing as soon as practicable.

In the third and final article from this series for Safecall Keely considers how to strategically review your whistleblowing programme and, perhaps most importantly, drive a change in culture that could protect your business.