Showing solidarity

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That bastion of hope, care, concern, respectability – Oxfam – is in deep, deep trouble. The ‘sex scandal’ in Haiti threatens to cost the charity (one of the most eminent in the world) millions of pounds as donors switch to smaller charities they believe can be trusted.

Following the ‘big’ scandal a whistle-blower claimed that sexual harassment had spread to the Oxfam charity shops. The shops raise a lot of money and the publicity and interest they generate are also hugely beneficial because they help to highlight disaster situations around the world. Staff overheads are presumably relatively very low because volunteering is such an important factor and makes such vast contributions. Sadly, it is now likely that a lot of volunteers and paid staff feel disillusioned, distressed and very, very let down. At the time of writing the story continues to expand to involve staff and volunteers in other countries inevitably resulting in resignations around the globe.

Thankfully the equestrian industry is very largely removed from this scandal. But hang on – is it really possible that any industry in any sector could stand up to intense scrutiny? Oxfam was accused of using its PR machine to effect a cover-up but are not today’s PR people expected – ordered – to make the very best of positive stories whilst handling the bad news by applying spin, lying, prevarication and cheating? In essence, covering up.

Go back quite a few years to when the first massive cover-ups were found out and achieved massive media attention. The momentum was like a snowball hurtling down a steep and slippery slope and the initial reaction was genuine surprise and absolute horror. Nowadays when the spin doesn’t come up with the goods the reaction tends to be ‘another PR firm has bitten the dust’. Whereas a cover-up was regarded as shocking, nowadays when something is ‘found out’, the reaction is inclined to be ‘the PR people didn’t do their job’! Admitting to a ‘problem’ used to be seen as brave, honest and just what was expected of a highly respected company, institution or individual but nowadays admission is seen as just plain stupid. Protect the brand – at all costs.  At all costs!

Without a doubt the Oxfam brouhaha is the mere tip of the iceberg. It has been reported that the huge organisation has not been undertaking DBS checks of adult staff and volunteers working with children and vulnerable adults. No doubt it was assumed that those who seek paid and volunteer jobs with Oxfam are good people. The vast majorities most definitely are but, as always, it is tiny majorities that finally cinch the deal. The power of minorities for evil as well as good should never be underestimated.

Oxfam does a huge amount of good. The work it undertakes is vastly important. Thousands of dedicated people work for far less money they would get in another sector – and thousands more give their time free and work for absolutely nothing. Most of them undoubtedly share a vision – one relating to opportunity to do good in the world and to make things better for millions of people whose lives are often barely worth living. Their mission: ‘Our vision is a just world without poverty. We want a world where people are valued and treated equally, enjoy their rights as full citizens, and can influence decisions affecting their lives.’ 

Sharing a vision is motivating, empowering and satisfying. It also encourages unity and promotes success. It would be immensely sad and totally counterproductive if people lost faith in Oxfam and the vision went up in smoke. 

Equestrian retailers often site charity fundraising boxes close to cash points – the idea being that customers will donate loose change. Some of those boxes undoubtedly collect money for Oxfam. It would be an awful shame if shop proprietors felt the need to remove the boxes because of the scandal. Better by far to show solidarity with the beneficiaries by adding another box; after all, they are the people who matter, and they shouldn’t be punished as a result of the nonsensical and ill-judged actions of the relatively small number of individuals who should have known better.