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Oxfam International logo

Oxfam International is a confederation of 14 organisations working with over 3,000 partners in around 100 countries to find lasting solutions to poverty and injustice.

The Oxfam International Secretariat leads, facilitates, and supports collaboration between the Oxfam affiliates to increase Oxfam International's impact on poverty and injustice through advocacy campaigns, development programmes and emergency response.

Oxfam was originally founded in Oxfordmarker in 1942 as the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief by a group of Quakers, social activists, and Oxford academics; this is now Oxfam Great Britain, still based in Oxford, UKmarker. It was one of several local committees formed in support of the National Famine Relief Committee. Their mission was to persuade the British government to allow food relief through the Allied blockade for the starving citizens of Axis-occupied Greece. The first overseas Oxfam was founded in Canadamarker in 1963. The committee changed its name to its telegraph address, OXFAM, in 1965.

History and beginnings

Plaque commemorating first meeting of Oxfam in the Old Library, the University Church, Oxford.
The original Oxford Committee for Famine Relief was a group of concerned citizens such as Canon Theodore Richard Milford (1896–1987), Professor Gilbert Murray and his wife Lady Mary, Cecil Jackson-Cole and Sir Alan Pim. The Committee met in the Old Library of University Church of St Mary the Virginmarker, Oxford, for the first time in 1942, and its aim was to relieve famine in Greece caused by Allied naval blockades. By 1960, it was a major international non-governmental aid organisation.

Oxfam GB (Great Britain)

The largest of the Oxfam International family is Oxfam GB, with 5,955 employees worldwide in 2008, and with a total income of £299.7 million.Oxfam GB's head office is located in Cowley, Oxfordmarker and has offices and programmes in over 70 countries in 8 regions.From 2007 to 2009, Oxfam GB has been recognised as one of Britains Top Employers by CRF.[718255]

Oxfam Canada

Oxfam Canada traces its history to 1963, when the British-based Oxford Committee for Famine Relief sought to establish a Canadian branch.

Oxfam Canada was independently incorporated in 1966; the first Board of Directors included 21 distinguished Canadians. In 1967, Oxfam Canada became a key organiser of the successful Miles for Millions fundraising walks across the country. In that year, Lester Pearson (then Canadian Prime Minister) led Oxfam's first Miles for Millions March. With its revenues, Oxfam began to provide educational materials to schools and undertake advocacy work in public policy development.

The early 1970s was a critical period of growth as Oxfam began its own programming overseas in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and established a network of staff and volunteers across Canada to support its work. In 1973, with the support of Oxfam Canada, Oxfam Quebec became a separate member of the international Oxfam movement.

During this same period, Oxfam Canada began to analyse its role in the development process, moving from a traditional model of charity (one-time grants) towards long-term development programming (working with communities to affect lasting positive change.)

Deeply involved in the international movement against apartheid in South Africa and Central American solidarity through the 1970s and '80s, Oxfam Canada sought to address the fundamental, underlying causes of poverty.

This in turn led to Oxfam's role as a major advocacy organisation in the 1990s, to mobilise public support for changing the policies that perpetuate poverty.

Today, Oxfam Canada works with over 100 partner organisations in developing countries, tackling the root causes of poverty and inequity and helping people to create self-reliant and sustainable communities. In Canada, Oxfam is active in education, policy advocacy and building a constituency of support for its work.

Oxfam Canada is a founding member of Oxfam International, the federation of Oxfams worldwide.

Oxfam's work

Oxfam clothing and shoe bank
Though Oxfam's initial concern was the provision of food to relieve famine, over the years the organisation has developed strategies to combat the causes of famine. In addition to food and medicine, Oxfam also provides tools to enable people to become self-supporting and opens markets of international trade where crafts and produce from poorer regions of the world can be sold at a fair price to benefit the producer.

Oxfam's programme has three main points of focus: development work, which tries to lift communities out of poverty with long-term, sustainable solutions based on their needs; humanitarian work, assisting those immediately affected by conflict and natural disasters (which often leads in to longer-term development work), especially in the field of water and sanitation; and lobbyist, advocacy and popular campaigning, trying to affect policy decisions on the causes of conflict at local, national, and international levels.

Oxfam works on trade justice, fair trade, education, debt and aid, livelihood, health, HIV/AIDS, gender equality, conflict (campaigning for an international arms trade treaty) and natural disasters, democracy and human rights, and climate change.


Oxfam has numerous shops all over the world, which sell many fair-trade items and clothing. They opened their first charity shop in 1948. The proceeds from these usually get paid to different charities or are used to further Oxfam's relief efforts around the globe. They rely on public donations for their stock.

In 2008, Oxfam GB worked with over 20,000 volunteers in shops across the UK, raising £17.1 million for Oxfam's programme work.

Of the 750 Oxfam charity shops around the UK, around 100 are specialist bookshops or book and music shops. Oxfam is the largest retailer of second-hand books in Europe, selling around 12 million per year.

Oxfam has near to 15,000 shops worldwide.


Oxfam has a number of successful fundraising channels in addition to its shops. Over half a million people in the UK make a regular financial contribution towards its work, and vital funds are received from gifts left to the organisation in people's wills. Many London Marathon competitors run to raise money for Oxfam, and Oxfam also receives funds in return for providing and organising volunteer stewards at festivals such as Glastonburymarker. In conjunction with the Gurkha Welfare Trust, Oxfam also runs several Trailwalker events in Hong Kongmarker, Australia, New Zealandmarker, the United Kingdom and Japanmarker.

In August 2009, it was announced that Arctic Monkeys would release a 7-inch vinyl version of their new single "Crying Lightning" exclusively through Oxfam shops, with proceeds going to the charity.


Conflict with Starbucks on Ethiopian coffee

On 26 October 2006, Oxfam accused Starbucks of asking the National Coffee Association to block a U.S. trademark application from Ethiopiamarker for three of the country's coffee beans, Sidamo, Harar and Yirgacheffe. They claimed this could result in denying Ethiopian coffee farmers potential annual earnings of up to £47m.

Robert Nelson, the head of the NCA, added that his organisation initiated the opposition for economic reasons, "For the U.S. industry to exist, we must have an economically stable coffee industry in the producing world... This particular scheme is going to hurt the Ethiopian coffee farmers economically". The NCA claims the Ethiopian government was being badly advised and this move could price them out of the market.

Facing more than 90,000 letters of concern, Starbucks placed pamphlets in its stores accusing Oxfam of "misleading behavior" and insisting that its "campaign need[s] to stop". On 7 November, The Economist derided Oxfam's "simplistic" stance and Ethiopia's "economically illiterate" government, arguing that Starbucks' (and Illy's) standards-based approach would ultimately benefit farmers more.

Nonetheless, on 20 June 2007, representatives of the Government of Ethiopia and senior leaders from Starbucks Coffee Company announced that they had concluded an agreement regarding distribution, marketing and licensing that recognises the importance and integrity of Ethiopia's speciality coffee designations.

Political neutrality

Oxfam Great Britain has been strongly criticised by other NGOs for becoming too close to Tony Blair's New Labour government in the UK.

Internal structures and political role

In 2005, the magazine New Internationalist described Oxfam as a "Big International Non-Government Organisation (BINGO)", having a corporate-style, undemocratic internal structure, and addressing the symptoms rather than the causes of international poverty – especially by acquiescing to neoliberal economics and even taking over roles conventionally filled by national governments.

Fair trade coffee

On 28 April 2007, two academics in Melbournemarker, Australia, representing a think tank lodged a complaint with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission accusing Oxfam of misleading or deceptive conduct under the Trade Practices Act in its promotion of Fairtrade coffee. The academics claimed that high certification costs and low wages for workers undermine claims that Fairtrade helps to lift producers out of poverty. These claims were subsequently dismissed by the Commission.

Israeli–Palestinian conflict

In 2003, Oxfam Belgium produced a poster with a picture of an orange drenched in blood. The poster read, "Israelmarker's fruits have a bitter taste...reject the occupation of Palestine, don't buy Israeli fruits and vegetables". Oxfam was widely criticised because of the poster's anti-Israel political message and its alleged allusion to traditional, antisemitic blood libel rhetoric. Following publicity and pressure from the NGO Monitor, Oxfam removed the poster from their web site and Ian Anderson, the chairman of Oxfam International, issued a letter of apology. However, Oxfam maintained its support for products grown in the West Bankmarker and Gazamarker. Oxfam was criticised for its policy of what has been termed "selective morality" by the pro-Israel organisation NGO Monitor.

In October 2009, Oxfam was accused by Israeli NGO Regavim of aiding Palestinians in illegal activities in Kiryat Arbamarker, including water theft.

Book and film references

In the non-fiction book Into the Wildmarker, the protagonist donates his savings of $24,000 to Oxfam before beginning his journey.

Oxfam is mentioned briefly on a number of occasions, favourably and unfavourably in the Angelina Jolie and Clive Owen film Beyond Borders (2003).

In the 2005 film The Constant Gardener, Oxfam is cited briefly in regards to the observation of and campaigning against experimental drug-testing by pharmaceutical companies in developing countries, such as Kenyamarker, the film's setting.

See also


  1. Statement from the Oxfam website.
  2. Cecil Jackson-Cole from Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board. Retrieved 22 October 2009.
  3. Trustee's Report 07-08.
  4. Britain's Top Employer Profile 2009.
  5. Statement from the Oxfam website.
  6. Joint Statement: Starbucks and Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office (EIPO) Partner to Promote Ethiopia’s Coffee and Benefit the Country’s Coffee Farmers
  7. New Statesman
  8. The Big Charity Bonanza
  9. Oxfam Belgium produces political poster, NGO Monitor Digest, 2003-06-24.
  10. Oxfam's Apology, NGO Monitor, 2003-07-16.
  11. Israeli goods produced in the Occupied Territories: The position of Oxfam, Belgium, NGO Monitor, 2003-08-04.

Further reading

  • Maggie Black, A Cause for Our Times: Oxfam the First 50 Years (Oxford: Oxfam, 1992). ISBN 0-85598-173-3
  • Susan Blackburn, Practical Visionaries: A Study of Community Aid Abroad (Melbourne University Press, 1993). ISBN 0-522-84562-2

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