Records of Oxfam's governance
This record group contains records of Oxfam GB (formerly Oxfam and Oxfam UK/I) only.
The catalogue describes records generated by Oxfam's governance activities, including the minutes of meetings of its main governing bodies: the Council of Trustees, the Executive Committee, the Association of Oxfam (including Annual General Meetings) and the Honorary Officers, and their predecessors. It also describes records of the main forums for consultation with staff and stakeholders - the Joint Consultative Committee and the Oxfam Assembly.
In addition, it contains correspondence and associated papers concerning the governance of Oxfam, including correspondence of trustees and of staff members working on governance, such as the Policy and Trustees Officer.
- Creation: 1942-2009
15.0 Linear metres (91 physical shelfmarks)
Language of Materials
Conditions Governing Access
Some material is closed.
Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark and folio or page reference, where available, e.g. MS. Oxfam GOV/1/1/1].
Full range of shelfmarks:
MS. Oxfam GOV/1-7
Collection ID (for staff)
MS. Oxfam GOV
Records of Oxfam's governance
Biographical / Historical
The Oxford Committee for Famine Relief was formed in 1942, one of several similar groups set up around the U.K. during the Second World War, in support of the National Famine Relief Committee, to lobby for the relief of suffering behind the Allied blockade in Greece and other countries under German occupation. The Oxford Committee initially raised funds to be channelled through the Greek Red Cross. Throughout the remainder of the war it also campaigned, unsuccessfully, for the lifting of the blockade to allow relief supplies through to starving populations. In March 1943 it was registered as a charity under the War Charities Act.
In the post-war years, the Oxford Committee remained in existence to raise funds and dispatch supplies of food and clothing to refugees and others in Europe through agencies such as the Salvation Army and the Save the Children Fund. In 1948 it broadened its aims to include 'the relief of suffering as a result of wars or of other causes in any part of the world' and turned its attention also to aid for refugees in the Middle East and people affected by conflict in Korea in the early 1950s. In the 1960s, it gained national recognition through its humanitarian response to war and famine in the Congo and Biafra. In 1965, the shortened telegraphic address, 'Oxfam', which had been used informally since the 1940s, was adopted as the charity's registered name.
During the 1960s Oxfam began to highlight the need in many countries for long-term development work to address the causes of poverty. It played a leading role in the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation's 'Freedom from Hunger' campaign, launched in the U.K. in 1962, which aimed to combat food shortages, not by giving food aid but by enabling people to grow enough to feed themselves. Oxfam's grants to local agencies for work in areas such as agriculture and public health increased throughout the decade. By the early 1970s, it was supporting 800 projects involving local communities, overseen by eleven Field Directors based in the countries concerned. Public education, campaigning and advocacy on issues affecting poor people also became a major focus for the organization at this time.
Today, advocacy and campaigning, development work to help poor people work their own way out of poverty, and humanitarian work in emergencies, assisting those immediately affected by conflict and natural disasters, remain the basis of Oxfam's programme. As a major, international non-governmental organization, Oxfam is a world leading expert in public health in emergencies. In 1962, Oxfam was launched in Canada. Other Oxfams followed, in America, Belgium and elsewhere. Oxfam International, a confederation of non-governmental organizations, was formed in 1995. Oxfam GB, the organization founded in Oxford in 1942, and other national Oxfams are members of Oxfam International.
For further information please see M Black, A Cause for our Times: Oxfam - the first 50 years (Oxfam and Oxford University Press, 1992).
Governance in Oxfam:
The Oxford Committee for Famine Relief's first meeting was held in the Old Library of the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Oxford, on 5 Oct 1942, with the Reverend T.R. Milford as Chairman: "Rev. Milford explained that the meeting had been called by a small preliminary committee of which he was Chairman & that its five members had been appointed at a public meeting, addressed by Miss Edith Pye, on July 20th."
The first minute book of the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief, 5 Oct 1942-24 Nov 1948 (MS. Oxfam GOV/1/1/1), records the formation of various sub-committees including the European Relief Sub-committee. No records of these sub-committees are extant.
In a meeting held on 24 Mar 1943, a resolution was passed that an application for registration under the War Charities Act 1940 would be made. The charity's objects were to be "the relief (to the extent that the law for the time being permits) of famine and sickness arising as a result of the war" and its registered address was 12 Holywell Street, Oxford. Its constituent members were: Dr Wilson Baker, Mrs Compton Ford, Dr Henry Gillett, Reverend Frederic Greeves, Dr Leo Liepmann, Reverend T.R. Milford (Chairman), Reverend H.R. Moxley, Professor Gilbert Murray, Lady Mary Murray, Sir Alan Pim (Hon. Treasurer), Mr Nowell T. Smith, Dr Hugh Robertson and Cecil Jackson Cole (Hon. Secretary). Three members of the committee were appointed as Honorary Trustees: Professor Gilbert Murray, Sir Alan Pim and Dr Hugh Robertson.
At a meeting on 3 Oct 1947 the Reverend H.R. Moxley, Chairman of the European Relief Sub-committee, was elected Chairman of the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief in place of Milford: "Mr Moxley referred to the confusion which had occurred in the public mind by reason of the names of two committees having appeared for this work and of the desirability of having one main Committee and an Executive". At a meeting on 19 Feb 1948 it was agreed that the "two existing committees [the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief and the European Relief Sub-committee] should be merged into one main committee which would have an executive". The Executive Committee met for the first time on 20 Feb 1948.
In the years that followed, various trustee committees were established, with responsibility for overview of different areas of the organization's work, such as the Grants Sub-committee (later the Overseas Aid Committee), the Finance Committee and the Shops Committee. These reported to the Executive Committee. Extant minutes for these can be found in the catalogues of materials for the relevant function, e.g. minutes of the Overseas Aid Committee can be found in the catalogue of records of Oxfam's programme policy, management and administration (MS. Oxfam PRG).
On 1 October 1958, the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief was registered as a non-profit-making company limited by guarantee under the Companies Act, 1948, with a Council of Management. From this point, the organisation began to hold Annual General Meetings, with members of the Association of Oxfam in attendance, who effectively made up the 'company'. The Association initially comprised both trustee and non-trustee members (such as ex-trustees). In 1984 this changed, with only trustees now allowed to be members of the Association, but from 1993 there was once again non-trustee membership of the Association, until this was reversed in 2015.
Following a 1991 report by consultants Compass, substantial changes were made to the governance and management structure of Oxfam. Responsibilities for day-to-day management were clarified as being held by a smaller Corporate Management Team (the Director of Oxfam and Divisional Directors). Trustees retained the ultimate legal responsibility for the charity and its activities, including ensuring that it was well-managed by staff.
The Executive Committee and most trustee committees were stood down in September 1993. The Council of Management was renamed the Council of Trustees in 1994. At this time the Association non-trustee membership was re-introduced to widen accountability and to provide a safety net, should there be a crisis.
The size of Council membership has varied considerably throughout Oxfam's history. In 1971, for example, there were up to 85 trustee members of the Council of Management. By the early 1980s, there were up to 50 members, with each serving a three-year term, renewable for a second term, and Council meeting three times a year; the Executive Committee met more frequently. Following restructuring, in 1994 there were 15-25 members of the Council of Trustees, which met around eight times a year. By 1998, this reduced to 12 members which remains the maximum number unless specific circumstances require a temporary increase (e.g. the appointment of an incoming Chair or Treasurer Designate).
Oxfam's functions have remained fairly constant over many years, but a number of organizational restructurings have resulted in functions being transferred between departments and teams. To preserve continuity, records have been arranged according to function (in this case, governance) rather than department or team. The arrangement reflects the original filing system where that is apparent, and is usually chronological. Original file titles, where they exist, are given in inverted commas preceding descriptions. Titles of reports are also given in inverted commas.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Oxfam donated its archive to the Bodleian Library in 2012.
- Cherry | Winifred Mary | 1926-2015 | Oxfam trustee 1980-1995, Chair of Oxfam's Asia Committee 1980-1985, Oxfam Chair of Trustees 1989-1995, Association of Oxfam member 1997-2001, journalist and agricultural expert (Person)
- Joffe | Joel Goodman | 1932-2017 | Baron Joffe | Oxfam trustee 1980-2001, Oxfam Chair of Trustees 1995-2001, lawyer and businessman (Person)
- Oxfam GB (Organisation)
- Catalogue of the Oxfam Archive: Governance
- Finding aid prepared by Antonia White, based on an earlier finding aid by Rosie Dodd and Chrissie Webb
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Catalogued with the generous support of the Wellcome Trust
- Finding aid note
- Cataloguing support provided by Rachael Orchard