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Stronger whistleblowing culture can help repair Third Sector public trust and confidence

This week the Charity Commission published its report into the Oxfam scandal and severely criticised Oxfam for the way it dealt with claims of serious sexual misconduct by its staff in Haiti.

The commission said there was a “culture of poor behaviour” at the charity, and issued it with an official warning over its “mismanagement”.

Whistleblower Helen Evans, who worked as Oxfam’s global head of safeguarding, resigned in 2015 because managers at the charity wouldn’t listen to her concerns.

Helen, talking to The Times, said, “Money talks, we need donors to hold charities to account. Donors, especially governments, must stop treating safeguarding as a tick box exercise that can be satisfied with policies.  They must hold charities to account by mandating the design of safe programmes, demanding robust action against perpetrators, commissioning safeguarding audits and withholding funds if necessary.

“The public though rightly expect charities to adhere to the highest standards. Today’s Charity Commission report and last year’s international development committee select report into the aid sector show we have fallen short. I still believe in the aid sector.  I believe it has a vital role in alleviating poverty and suffering.  I also fear we risk repeating history in future years if we don’t fundamentally reform the mechanisms for holding the agencies to account.”

Protect is working with the Charity Commission on a pilot to support charity workers and volunteers. What this means is that if a worker or volunteer has concerns over wrongdoing at the charity they work or volunteer for and want independent advice on how to raise it effectively, they can call Protect. If appropriate, our Protect advisers can discuss whether it is a regulatory matter for the Charity Commission.

The Third Sector is, of course, vast with 168,000 registered charities in England and Wales, varying in size, governance and speciality. Not all will be well run and like any organisation, risks, malpractice and dangers will be prevalent.

We find it often takes a scandal for organisations to realise the benefits of strong whistleblowing arrangements, and how a healthy speak up culture can help or prevent wrongdoing. Just as important is a strong listening culture and training to know how to handle concerns effectively.

We hope to work with many more of the UK’s 168,000 charities. Call Protect’s Business Support team on 020 3117 2525.