In light of the ongoing Oxfam scandal, the Charity Commission, UK’s charity regulator, has launched an investigation of 179 British charities and agencies. So far, they have uncovered new claims alleging more than 120 workers have been accused of sexual abuse in the past year across 26 UK charities and groups.
Charity organizations have a track record of failing to prosecute sex offenders and pass along sex offender claims to future employers, most likely in order to avoid scandal. For example, Mr. van Hauwermeiren, the head of the mission for Oxfam in Haiti in 2011, was allowed to quietly resign, rather than being fired, after multiple claims of sexual misconduct. As a result of Oxfam’s inaction, Mr. van Hauwermeiren was allowed to keep switching aid organizations from Liberia to Chad, to Haiti, to Bangladesh as accusations surfaced.
While sexual harassment is a deeply emotional issue that extends far beyond the workplace, examples such as that of Mr. van Hauwermeiren and countless others prove the need for better governance programs and infrastructure within corporations.
According to a study published by the Wall Street Journal, “77% of boards hadn’t talked about sexual harassment, 88% hadn’t implemented a plan of action as a result of recent revelations, and 83% hadn’t evaluated the company’s risks when it came to sexual harassment. Their most commonly cited reason for inaction? A perception that sexual harassment wasn’t a problem at the company.”
I believe that while these issues give rise to larger social debates, there are also steps that companies can take to do their part to improve the awareness and mitigation of incidents related to sexual harassment and misconduct.