Socialist Party
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14 February 2018

Oxfam scandal: we need democratic aid and working class solidarity

Sarah Sachs-Eldridge, Socialist Party national organiser

In January 2010 when the earthquake struck we wrote: "The humanitarian catastrophe that has befallen Haiti beggars belief." Hundreds of thousands were killed and millions left homeless, injured, denied medicine and starving.

The country had just two fire stations and no 'quake-proof' housing. Even before the earthquake 80% lived below the poverty line and three-quarters were out of work.

Haitians were therefore extremely vulnerable. Our headline read, "a disaster compounded by capitalism".

Now we see that the suffering of desperate Haitians was being compounded even further. The revelations that Oxfam senior managers paid for sex in Haiti shows that these vulnerable people also faced gross exploitation at the hands of those who claimed to be there to help. The Guardian says that it is alleged some of those involved may have been underage.

But sadly this is not new news - in 2015 a document by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services said that hundreds of women in Haiti were forced by hunger and poverty to sell sex. Some papers report that there are concerns that paedophiles and other sexual abusers are actively targeting jobs in the aid sector. UK charities recorded at least 120 incidents of sexual abuse and harassment involving their staff between 2016 and 2017.

A lot of the discussion has focused on the cover-up aspect. It appears that a senior manager was one of those accused of paying for sex in Africa and was still sent to Haiti afterwards.

Oxfam did not report them to the police or fully disclose what had been discovered. Some of the men involved were allowed to resign discreetly at the time. Oxfam denies a cover-up but that is what this is - and a cover-up that meant abuse of women and girls took place.

Penny Lawrence has resigned as deputy chief executive of Oxfam. But how can those who have suffered at the hands of Oxfam staff get justice? For one thing there should be an amnesty for women in Haiti and Chad to come forward to give evidence against the accused without the threat of themselves facing criminal charges.

Sexism and the oppression of women are inherent to capitalism and class society generally and are manifested wherever there are unequal power relations. Those who have come forward as part of the #MeToo campaign have exposed how widely sexism and sexual abuse reaches into situations where men have power to sack, employ and promote.

How much more is this the case when they have the power to provide food, medicine and shelter in a disaster area? To end abuse such as what took place in Haiti means ending the inequality between those administering the aid and the recipients.

Those who generously donate to charities, overwhelmingly the working class and poorer sections of society, do not want to see money and power in the hands of such people, nor being spent on advertising, bloated executive wages and administration.

The Socialist Party calls for democratic control over all aid and emergency assistance - from the immediate rescue, relief and rehabilitation of the affected people to reconstruction programmes. This should be done through elected committees of workers, land labourers and poor people in every area.

That was the model the United Socialist Party, CWI in Sri Lanka, pursued in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami. This must be linked to the struggle to build trade unions and a political voice of the working class and poor, with socialist policies.

The Tories have jumped on the revelations. The ultra-right-wing Jacob Rees-Mogg launched his "charity begins at home" petition to demand that the government slash the foreign aid bill last week.

He would like to undermine the solidarity people feel for those suffering in other parts of the world. But this is only another version of Cameron's attempt to divide so-called skivers from strivers.

Foreign policy is only domestic policy abroad and he is in favour of austerity here and internationally. Meanwhile he votes for tax cuts for the corporations, who evade and avoid taxes starving public services here but also smuggling vast amounts of money - an estimated $13 trillion since 1980 - illegally out of poor countries to stash in tax havens. Much of this is in the form of debt repayments that dwarf the initial amount borrowed.

The Tories and the pro-capitalist press were particularly ready to attack Oxfam because it has drawn attention to the gross inequality in society. For example it has pointed out that globally eight people own more wealth than the poorest half of the population and that in Britain five families own more wealth than the poorest 12 million people.

The Socialist Party doesn't just point out the rottenness of the capitalist system. We stand for working class solidarity and support for the people in war-torn disaster areas to democratically plan and organise the rebuilding of their lives - free from interference from charities and vulture-like corporations.

We stand for a working class led struggle against sexual oppression, against exploitation and poverty and for a socialist transformation of society with real equality.