Bill Carmichael: Oxfam's sex scandal shame is part of wider charity malaise

THE details of the sex abuse scandal currently engulfing Oxfam make for truly shocking reading.

Oxfam has lost sight of its Christian ethos, writes Bill Carmichael. Do you agree?
Oxfam has lost sight of its Christian ethos, writes Bill Carmichael. Do you agree?

Aid workers, who were supposed to be helping desperately needy people, were instead reportedly inviting prostitutes – some of whom may have been under age – to “Caligula-style” orgies at their staff accommodation in Haiti.

According to whistleblowers, destitute women in one of the poorest countries in the world were being told they could have aid supplies to keep them alive – but only if they were prepared to offer sex in return.

Guilty aid officials were allowed to quietly resign – and move on to other senior jobs in the charity sector – even after admitting to misconduct and gross breaches of trust.

Here in the UK there were reports of 123 incidents of sexual harassment in nine years in Oxfam stores where children as young as 14 were volunteers, and no criminal record checks were carried out on adult staff.

And all the while the quangocrats who ran the charity were immovable in their complacency, and whistleblowers among the staff who repeatedly warned about the scale of the problem were ignored and marginalised.

Let’s face it, the Charity Commission, which is supposed to monitor the entire sector, and the Department for International Development, which funnels millions of pounds of taxpayers’ cash to Oxfam, did absolutely nothing either, despite details of misconduct being widely known.

It is hard to see Oxfam repairing its reputation – which is a terrible pity for the thousands of staff and volunteers doing good work and making a difference in the world. I suspect the malaise in the charity sector goes far deeper than a “few bad apples”.

The big charities have grown enormously over recent years – largely fed by taxpayer cash – and they now resemble nothing less than the large multi-national corporations that they so despise.

They pay their senior executives obscenely large salaries – while relying on the generosity of volunteers who are paid nothing – and they use high-pressure sales techniques to squeeze more money out of vulnerable donors on modest incomes.

Meanwhile, slickly professional PR and marketing departments pump out a constant diet of politicised propaganda.

Many of the big charities – such as Oxfam which receives almost £32m a year from the British government – are ever more reliant on cash handed over by 
the state.

This breaches a fundamental principle of charitable giving – that it should be voluntary. The Bible tells us everyone should give according to the purpose of his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity “for God loveth a cheerful giver”.

There’s nothing voluntary about paying tax, and few of us were “cheerful givers” when we filled out our annual tax returns last month, and it adds insult to injury to learn that our hard-earned money is being used by sexual deviants to hire child prostitutes in the developing world.

Poverty remains a scourge in the world, but we know from cold, hard, factual evidence precisely what works in terms of helping the poor, and this can be summed up in the phrase “trade, not aid”.

Oxfam officials swanning about in brand new 4x4s do not improve the lot of the poor, but property rights, the rule of law and free trade does.

According to the World Bank, more than a billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty since 1990 – largely thanks to free market capitalism.

In contrast countries that have adopted socialist and collectivist systems have seen poverty rates rocket – for example in Venezuela where families are eating their own pets to stay alive.

Yet Oxfam spends a fortune pumping out an enormous amount of propaganda attacking free markets – in other words it campaigns against the one thing with a proven record of helping the poor.

I believe the big charities, including Oxfam, need a major rethink of their strategies if they are to regain public trust. They should give the misguided politicking a rest and return to the values – mainly Christian-inspired – of their founders.

Until that happens. I suspect many people will avoid giving to the big corporate charities and instead donate to smaller, apolitical, local charities where they can see exactly where their money is being spent.