The British government has suspended new funding to the aid organization Oxfam following allegations that some of its staff had paid for sex with prostitutes in Haiti after the country’s 2010 earthquake.
British Development Minister Penny Mordaunt said the group has agreed not to bid for any new funding from Britain’s government until London is satisfied the aid organization meets its “high standards.”
In a statement, the British-based aid group said, “We are committed to proving that we deserve the confidence of the U.K. public.”
The aid group has been rocked by allegations of sexually exploiting people in crisis zones, including using prostitutes and downloading pornography in Haiti after the country’s 2010 earthquake.
Oxfam, one of the world’s biggest disaster relief organizations, said it investigated the case in 2011 and fired four staff members and allowed three others to resign. However, the British government has criticized the group’s lack of transparency.
Earlier on Friday, Oxfam said it would create an independent commission to review the group’s practices and culture.
Oxfam International’s executive director, Winnie Byanyima, told BBC Friday, “What happened in Haiti and afterwards is a stain on Oxfam that will shame us for years, and rightly so.”
“From the bottom of my heart, I am asking for forgiveness,” Byanyima said, adding she wants all victims of abuse to come forward.
Mordaunt said the British government had asked Oxfam and other recipients of aid funding to provide assurances by February 26 that they effectively safeguarded people they helped, and reported any breaches to the government.
“At that stage we will make further decisions about continuing or amending how those programs are delivered. Our primary guiding principle in this will be the welfare of the beneficiaries of U.K. aid,” she said.
Oxfam relies on public and corporate donations as well as government funding. The allegations relate to Oxfam Great Britain, one of 20 affiliates that make up Oxfam International.
The scandal has led Britain’s charity regulator to open an investigation into Oxfam and has caused three celebrity ambassadors to the aid group — South African Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu, British actress Minnie Driver and Senegalese musician Baaba Maal — to resign.