Thoughts on the Oxfam scandal
Years ago at a wedding, I found myself making small talk with a friend’s boyfriend who worked in famine relief in Africa. I’d recently been involved in a campaign to relieve unfair third world debt, so in an attempt to keep our rather stilted conversation going, I asked him what he thought of that campaign. His answer shocked me:
“You’d lose control over them.” he said shaking his head.
“Them” It was like he was talking about infants, not one of the most vibrant continents on earth. And the whiff of colonialism was unmistakeable.
If we look at all the big sexual abuse scandals: Weinstein, sports coaches, paedophile priests, it has always been a case of the powerful exploiting the powerless and the Oxfam scandal fits right into this mould. Those Oxfam officials in Haiti clearly saw themselves as colonial overlords with droit de seigneur over ‘the natives’.
As Lord Acton famously put it “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
But, how do so many get away with so much for so long? Why does nobody say anything?
One of my great frustrations in life is the way gang mentality rules in large organisations. If you ever try to make a complaint about an injustice you will find your point slowly sandpapered down to something which can be ‘resolved’ by ‘lessons have been learnt’ or some such rot. I once received a rather convoluted argument explaining how someone libelling me (which wasn’t disputed) didn’t breach the organisation’s code of conduct re ‘respecting other people’. Because nothing says ‘respect’ quite like defamation.
At present, whistleblowing is rarely a good career move: you’ll be made to feel uncomfortable in the post and, if you look for a new job, others may worry they’re taking on a liability.
So what can we do?
I take some comfort in the new breed of whistleblowing policies which make it a duty to report wrongdoing. Perhaps if enough people get disciplined alongside perpetrators for not reporting corrupt practice, it could start to shift the paradigm. I live in hope!