Oxfam International is a confederation of 13 organizations working with over 3,000 partners in more than 100 countries to find lasting solutions to poverty and injustice.
The Oxfam International Secretariat leads, facilitates and supports collaboration between the Oxfam affiliates to make bigger Oxfam Internationals impact on poverty and injustice through advocacy campaigns, development programs and emergency response.
Oxfam was originally founded in England 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, UK. It was one of a number of local committees formed in support of the National Famine Relief Committee. Their mission was to persuade the UK government to allow food relief through the Allied blockade for the starving citizens of Nazi-occupied Greece. The first overseas Oxfam was founded in Canada in 1963. The committee changed its name to its telegraph address, OXFAM, in 1965.
The original Oxford Committee for Famine Relief, from which Oxfam takes its name, 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 for the first time in 1942, and its aim was to relieve famine in Greece caused by Allied naval blockades.
Though Oxfam's initial concern was the provision of food to relieve famine, over the years Oxfam 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 program 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, livelihoods, health, HIV/AIDS, gender equality, conflict (campaigning for an international arms trade treaty) and natural disasters, democracy and human rights, and climate change.
The first permanent Oxfam gift shop opened in February 1948 on the ground floor of 17 Broad Street, Oxford, England, a lease on which building had been taken by the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief (later Oxfam) the previous November. Today Oxfam operates approximately 750 shops throughout Britain as well as a number in other countries. Over 70 of the organization's shops in the UK are specialist Oxfam bookshops, making them the largest retailer of second-hand books in the United Kingdom. Oxfam Canada sold off its Bridgehead fair trade business, which in 2000 became the Bridgehead Coffee chain which continues to promote fair trade coffee and related products.
Oxfam shops also sell fair trade products from developing communities around the world.
On 26 October 2006, Oxfam accused Starbucks of asking the National Coffee Association to block a trademark application from Ethiopia for two of the country's coffee beans, Sidamo and Harar. They claim 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 organization 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 recognizes the importance and integrity of Ethiopia’s speciality coffee designations.
In 2005, the website "New Internationalist" described Oxfam as a "Big International Non-Government Organisation (BINGO)." The website criticises such organizations for being undemocratic whilst wielding enormous financial and economic clout.
On 28 April 2007 two academics in Melbourne, 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.
In 2003, Oxfam Belgium produced a poster with a picture of a dripping blood orange. The poster read, "Israeli fruits have a bitter taste...reject the occupation of Palestine, don't buy Israeli fruits and vegetables. Oxfam was widely criticized because of the poster’s perceived 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 a boycott of products grown in the West Bank and Gaza. Oxfam was criticized for its policy of what has been termed "selective morality" by the pro-Israel organization NGO Monitor.