Scottish Daily Mail

Charity that’s betrayed its humble High Street roots

- by Paul Bracchi

For many, oxfam is still synonymous with kindly old ladies selling second-hand books and clothes in the charity’s dusty shops up and down the country. Leaflets and posters where they turn out tirelessly – day after day, week after week – remind us of the vital humanitari­an work oxfam carries out in conflict zones and disaster spots in every corner of the globe. Volunteers wearing instantly recognisab­le green oxfam T-shirts and vests have become a familiar sight on TV news coverage of the plight of rohingya refugees sheltering in Bangladesh or families trying to escape the horrors of Syria.

‘People have a right to life and security, to a sustainabl­e livelihood, to be heard, to have an identity, and to have access to basic social services,’ is the noble mission statement on oxfam’s website.

So, in the eyes of the public oxfam enjoys an almost unrivalled reputation as a force for good; a quaint, reassuring­ly old-fashioned organisati­on, epitomised by its High Street presence.

These outlets, the only point of contact most of us have with oxfam, have ‘become the generic name for [charity] shops, in the same way that vacuum cleaners are referred to as Hoovers,’ says oxfam’s chief executive Mark Goldring. There could be no better indicator of how ubiquitous oxfam has become.

In fact, oxfam bears little resemblanc­e to this popular image.

oxfam has 1,200 shops worldwide (630 in the UK), employs around 10,000 staff (plus 23,000 volunteers) and has a turnover of £415million; it is a multi-national company – a corporate behemoth – in all but name.

Neverthele­ss, it has managed to maintain a heartfelt place in the hearts and minds of the British public; until now.

In 2011, we now know, senior aid workers in earthquake-torn Haiti indulged in orgies with prostitute­s – ‘full-on Caligula orgies’ described as ‘young meat barbecues,’ reportedly. Some of the women were allegedly younger than 16.

What a terrible betrayal of oxfam’s noble ideals – and those dedicated ‘old ladies’ – the revelation­s of sleaze and sexual exploitati­on now engulfing the charity represent.

THe scandal – apart from anything else – sits uncomforta­bly with the steam of sanctimoni­ous pronouncem­ents emanating from the charity in recent times.

All charities, by necessity, have to occupy the moral high ground, of course. But at the peak of this metaphoric­al summit is oxfam.

So rarefied is the atmosphere at the organisati­on’s £30million British headquarte­rs in oxford that you could be forgiven for thinking that staff have to be issued with oxygen masks to work here.

Among its many declaratio­ns is the claim that capitalism is to blame for creating global privation because 82 per cent of money generated last year went to the richest 1 per cent of the planet’s population, apparently. only oxfam could get away with making such politicise­d (and spurious) statements; charities are supposed to remain politicall­y neutral, after all.

What would oxfam’s founding father make of it all, one wonders? It was on october 5, 1942 that a group of citizens, mainly Quakers, concerned about civilians caught up in the battles of World War Two gathered in the University Church of St Mary the Virgin in oxford and called for the relaxation of blockades so food could reach people starving in europe – particular­ly famine-riven Greece. The oxford Committee for Famine relief (now oxfam) was born.

A party to mark the 75th anniversar­y of oxfam, attended by 500 guests, was held in oxford town hall in october. The hall was decorated with display boards showcasing oxfam projects over the years – ‘striving for a world where it doesn’t have to exist.’

Among the guests was 85-yearold roger Baker, the charity’s longest serving volunteer, who has been supporting oxfam for 48 years. His father, Wilson Baker, a chemist, was part of the original committee which set up the first oxfam shop in oxford’s Broad Street in 1945 (a live donkey, believe it or not, was among the early donations).

‘When you join a family, you stay,’ said Mr Baker.

The retired teacher said his involvemen­t in oxfam means ‘helping the disadvanta­ged people of the world, allowing them to help themselves’.

By the early 1960s, the tweedy members of that first meeting – including Mr Baker Snr – would have been flabbergas­ted by oxfam’s expedienti­al growth. The Beatles, no less, did a benefit concert for oxfam in 1963.

By the 1970s, oxfam became active in Latin America and the Caribbean, and spearheade­d the internatio­nal campaign against apartheid in South Africa.

In the 90s, oxfam sent the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – on real horses – over Westminste­r Bridge to protest the consequenc­es of cutting aid to developing countries. In 2010, a group of pregnant women recreated Charles ebbets’s iconic view of New york constructi­on workers – ‘lunch atop a skyscraper’ – to highlight the dangers of childbirth in the developing world.

And last year, oxfam turned Trafalgar Square into a ‘tropical tax haven’ with palm trees, a sandy beach and businessme­n in a call to end tax dodging that ‘robs poor countries’.

‘our work providing life-saving aid and standing up for the rights of the world’s poorest people would simply not be possible without the compassion and support of the British public,’ said boss Mr Goldring.

Mr Goldring’s current salary is £125,248 – less than the bosses of other charities – but not an inconsider­able sum nonetheles­s.

oxfam, incidental­ly, receives £300million a year from public donations and British government funds – and by implicatio­n taxpayers – including the kind of businesses oxfam has gone out of its way to criticise when it blamed the ills of the world on

capitalism. How embarrassi­ngly ironic that Oxfam now finds itself at the centre of a scandal that in days gone by would have made a lurid front page headline for the News of the World.

Yet the scandal goes beyond Haiti. Official figures collated by charities show that Oxfam reported 7 incidents of sexual harassment last year. Of these, 53 were referred to the police or other statutory authoritie­s. A total of 20 staff or volunteers were dismissed.

The statistics raise troubling questions about regulation in the beleaguere­d charity sector already tarnished by allegation­s of hard-sell tactics.

Undercover reporters working for the Mail and its sister paper, The Mail on Sunday, revealed in 2015 how staff at a call centre raising funds for Oxfam employed unscrupulo­us tactics to squeeze cash from the elderly (in one case a 9 -year-old) and cancer sufferers. New recruits were told to ignore the ‘excuses’ of potential donors pleading poverty and any requests to stop calling. Oxfam was later found to have breached the industry code following a six-month inquiry by the Fundraisin­g Standards Board.

Could there be a more distastefu­l contrast to the old ladies and other volunteers who work in Oxfam’s network of shops from Brighton to Blackpool?

There is an old saying that Mr Goldring and his PR team will no doubt be pondering today in the aftermath of the latest scandal: It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation and only minutes to destroy it.

 ??  ?? Familiar sight: Oxfam’s first shop in Oxford. There are now 1,200 worldwide
Familiar sight: Oxfam’s first shop in Oxford. There are now 1,200 worldwide
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