Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Against charity: outrage and self-righteousness "will only damage the interests of the most vulnerable"

The scandal at Oxfam has shown up inexcusable behaviour:
Oxfam internal inquiry reveals workers threatened colleague investigating abuse claims in effort to maintain silence | The Independent

And there are still many questions about how the scandal was handled by Oxfam itself:
Oxfam shows we must stop giving NGOs a free pass - Financial Times
Flop of the Month: the Oxfam guide to crisis mismanagement | PR Week

However, as Patrick Cockburn in last weekend's Independent noted, there were not exactly many out there helping Haiti in the middle of a cholera epidemic:

If you care so much about Haitians you should be asking why Oxfam was there in the first place

Compare the lack of interest shown by the international media, politicians and assorted celebrities to the cholera epidemic, leading to the death of thousands of Haitians, with the hysterical outrage expressed about Oxfam officials consorting with prostitutes 

Patrick Cockburn
Friday 16 February 2018 16:00 GMT


Haiti’s cholera epidemic killed 7,568 people between 2010 and 2012 Getty

The earthquake that devastated Haiti on 12 January 2010, killing 220,000 people, produced a terrible and disgusting failure by those who came from abroad to help the survivors. Among these were UN soldiers from Nepal, which was then in the middle of a cholera epidemic, who brought the disease with them and allowed it to enter the rivers that provide Haitians with their drinking water.

Cholera, previously unknown on the island, killed 7,568 Haitians over the next two years, though the UN denied responsibility for the outbreak. This was despite a report by its own experts in 2012 that showed that the spread of cholera downstream from the Nepalese soldiers’ camps was predictable and avoidable. It was only in 2016 that the UN finally accepted responsibility for starting the epidemic, though it claimed legal immunity and refused to pay compensation.

Compare the lack of interest shown by the international media, politicians and assorted celebrities to this man-made calamity, leading to the death of thousands of Haitians, to the hysterical outrage expressed about Oxfam officials consorting with prostitutes in Haiti in 2011. Though nobody died in the Oxfam sex scandal, it is described as “terrible” and “heart-breaking”, words normally reserved for tragedies such as the enslavement and rape of thousands of Yazidi women by Isis in Iraq.

If you care so much about Haitians you should be asking why Oxfam was there in the first place | The Independent 

The overreaction to Oxfam's failings is part of a deeper and more damaging malaise

Senior Oxfam figures tried briefly to defend themselves on the rational grounds that they had done little wrong and much right, but such a defence is not acceptable when the public mood is one of undiluted self-righteousness. It was, ultimately, Oxfam's own report that led to most of its troubles

Patrick Cockburn
5 days ago

People walk past an Oxfam sign in Corail, a camp for people displaced after 2010 earthquake, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti Reuters

The news agenda is dominated by melodramatic scandals that act as simplified versions of reality in which roles are allocated to accusers, victims, perpetrators and those condemned for failing to prevent wrong-doing. A few scandals are rooted in reality, such as those focused on Harvey Weinstein or Jimmy Saville, but others are becoming ever more exaggerated or phoney.

The media knows a good story when it sees one, regardless of whether it is true or false. It is interesting how the same characteristics crop in each scandal, however different they might at first appear: the most dubious sources of information are treated as credible; these sources gain the status of “victims” whom it is forbidden to criticise; the accusations against the person or institution under attack are vague, multiple and toxic; the trivial or shaky nature of the original crime is forgotten as the scandal is spiced up with claims of a cover-up, something which can never be wholly disproved even by the most thorough going disclosure.

There is a high degree of hypocrisy in the media pretence that it is duty-bound to report the most unlikely and obviously partisan allegations. In fact, it loves these stories of gladiatorial combat between angels and devils, though the scenario has often been concocted for partisan political purposes. The aim of any PR or propaganda person is to create stories that they know the press will be unable to leave alone. Fabricating a scandal is not difficult: an example of this is Hillary Clinton, who was cumulatively damaged by a series of fake scandals: the Whitewater real estate scandal in the 1990s from which she made no money; her use of a private email account that revealed no secrets; and the absurd attempt to hold her responsible for the murder of the US ambassador in Benghazi in 2012. As with most fake scandals, the aim was to slide away from any substantive charges but create a general belief among voters that she was slippery and evasive.

The overreaction to Oxfam's failings is part of a deeper and more damaging malaise | The Independent

Two weeks before the scandal broke, Oxfam had produced a report that many powerful people would rather they hadn't:
5 shocking facts about extreme global inequality and how to even it up | Oxfam International
Richest 1 percent bagged 82 percent of wealth created last year - poorest half of humanity got nothing | Oxfam International 

As covered in this blog:
Futures Forum: Wealth and inequality

And it has been pointed out by observers that there might be a connection between the two events:
Richard Murphy on Twitter: "First they came for Oxfam https://t.co/lK9R10pIoz via @richardjmurphy"

Yesterday's South China Morning Post carries the perspective from the Far East: 

Oxfam scandal highlights the real sickness in society: huge problem of worsening wealth inequality

We have witnessed a media orgy of outrage over the sexual behaviour of fewer than a dirty dozen individuals that took place almost a decade ago and which will only damage the interests of the most vulnerable, writes Niall Fraser 

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 February, 2018


Niall Fraser

Dealing properly and effectively with the problems, issues and events thrown up in daily life would be impossible without context, right?

Context is everything, I think we can agree on that...

Why then is it that when it comes to the bigger issues and events which punctuate all of our lives and impact on them both personally and collectively in much, much more significant ways, do we suspend the use of context and its close cousin, historical perspective?

I bring this up because of the ongoing sex scandal surrounding the global anti-poverty charity Oxfam, and the morphing of that particular case into a general atmosphere of hostility towards charitable giving, particularly to the big, global aid providers such as Oxfam.

Before making the point I want to make, I must stress that this in no way excuses the exploitation – sexual or otherwise – of vulnerable people in desperate situations, and when such treatment is found to have taken place those responsible should be dealt with accordingly.

So let’s be clear. I do not know if Oxfam – the Hong Kong incarnation of which reportedly lost 715 local donors who collectively gave the organisation more than HK$1.1 million a year in 11 days following the prostitution scandal involving just over a handful of staff employed by the charity’s British arm – and its fellow travellers in the international aid community are angels or demons.

But I do know the following.

Two weeks before The Times newspaper in London broke the sex scandal story earlier this month, Oxfam produced a report entitled “Reward work, not wealth”, this followed another published in 2017 which catalogued the huge and growing problem of poverty in the de-industrialised, so-called rust belt of North America.

Both reports pulled no punches and provided (whether you agree with their conclusions and methods or not) a powerful counter-narrative to the prevailing wisdom that the world is coming out of the doldrums of the 2008 financial crash and that happy stock markets mean a happy world.

Among the findings of the “Reward work, not wealth” report were the following:

1. The year 2017 saw the biggest increase in billionaires in history, one more every two days.

2. This huge increase could have ended global extreme poverty seven times over.

3. Some 82 per cent of all wealth created in the last year went to the top 1 per cent, and nothing went to the bottom 50 per cent.

For the record, an Oxfam report on Hong Kong, published in 2016, found that the wealthiest families here earned 29 times more than the poorest, concluding that the poorest would need to work for 2.4 years to make as much as the wealthiest earned in a single month.

Tellingly, in the work-not-wealth report, Oxfam interviewed 70,000 people from cities which make up a quarter of the world’s population and the vast majority said the planet’s problem with wealth inequality needed to be dealt with either “urgently” or “very urgently”.

Google news search “Oxfam, work not wealth” then do the same with the words “Oxfam sex scandal’’ and you will see the disparity in results for yourself.

Oxfam is also a “safe” target. It is disliked by those it points the finger at universally, from Beijing to Washington and all points in between.

There has been little or no fact-based argument put forward to counter the damning findings of the three Oxfam reports I have referred to above and what they say about the sickness at the heart of the society in which we live.

What we have witnessed is a media orgy of – often faux – outrage over the sexual behaviour of fewer than a dirty dozen individuals which took place almost a decade ago and which in the end will only damage the interests of the poorest and most vulnerable among us who make up the vast majority of the human population.

All I am asking is, why Oxfam? Why now?

Sex sells, mud sticks and in the absence of any decent fact-based arguments, screaming sleaze will always do the trick.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Oxfam sex scandal will hurt only the poor

Oxfam scandal highlights the real sickness in society: huge problem of worsening wealth inequality  | South China Morning Post

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