Oxfam suspends two staff in Democratic Republic of Congo over sexual misconduct claims

Investigation ongoing into allegations of abuse of power

'Oxfam' signage is pictured outside a high street branch of an Oxfam charity shop in south London on February 17, 2018. - Oxfam fired four staff members for gross misconduct and allowed three others to resign following an internal inquiry into what happened in Haiti in 2011. (Photo by Justin TALLIS / AFP)

Oxfam suspended two staff members in the Democratic Republic of Congo as part of an investigation launched last year into alleged sexual misconduct and bullying.

The British charity, which works in 67 countries, said it had suspended two staff members "as part of an ongoing external investigation, which we set up last November".

It said this was over "allegations of abuses of power, including bullying and sexual misconduct”.

The allegations were made public weeks after the UK government said the charity was allowed to apply for public funds again after another scandal.

The charity said it had reported this to the Charity Commission, a government department that regulates charities.

The suspensions came after The Times ran a front-page story on Friday headlined: "Oxfam rocked by new sex claims against aid workers".

It said it saw a letter about the situation in the DRC, signed by current and former Oxfam staff and sent to the charity heads in February, claiming "power abuses" and "threats to their lives" and making allegations against 11 people.

It said whistle-blowers had been raising concerns about alleged misconduct in the aid mission to the DRC since 2015.

Oxfam's statement said it was "working hard to conclude the investigation fairly, safely and effectively".

The anti-poverty charity was hit by a major scandal in 2018 over the way it handled staff in Haiti who admitted using prostitutes.

The chief executive quit after it emerged that several of the aid workers in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake were allowed to quit, including the country director.

The scandal prompted wider revelations about a lack of safeguards in the international aid sector.

In March, Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab allowed Oxfam to re-apply for state aid funds for the first time in three years after the Charity Commission said it had made "significant strides" in safeguarding since the 2018 scandal. Oxfam previously received about £30 million ($41 million) in state aid funding a year.

Sarah Champion, chairwoman of the House of Commons' international development committee, said the latest scandal shows "the existing safeguarding and oversight mechanisms simply don't work".

Oxfam announced in 2020 that it was closing 18 offices and cutting nearly 1,500 jobs because of a drop in funds linked to the coronavirus pandemic.

Oxfam's work in the DRC includes providing clean water and education on preventing Ebola transmission, according to its website.