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A sign is seen above a branch of Oxfam, in central London, Britain February 13, 2018. REUTERS/Simon Dawson

(reuters_tickers)

By William Schomberg

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain will stop funding overseas aid agencies if they fail to learn the lessons from Oxfam's sex abuse scandal, and the government will discuss possible prosecutions with law enforcement, the British development minister said on Wednesday.

Penny Mordaunt told anti-poverty groups that Britain - one of the world's most generous foreign development donors - would cut funding if they could not show they were clear of the kind of abuse that has rocked Oxfam.

The Times newspaper reported on Friday that some Oxfam staff paid for sex with prostitutes in Haiti after the country's 2010 earthquake. Oxfam has neither confirmed nor denied that specific account but has said an internal investigation in 2011 confirmed sexual misconduct occurred and it has apologised.

"Unless you safeguard everyone your organisation comes into contact with, including beneficiaries, staff and volunteers, we will not fund you," Mordaunt told a conference attended by representatives of development agencies in Stockholm.

"Unless you create a culture that prioritises the safety of vulnerable people and ensures victims and whistleblowers can come forward without fear, we will not work with you," she said.

"And unless you report every serious incident or allegation, no matter how damaging to your reputation, we cannot be partners."

Mordaunt said she was due to meet the head of Britain's National Crime Agency (NCA) on Thursday. The NCA has led investigations which led to the jailing of British citizens for sex crimes committed abroad.

"While investigations have to be completed and any potential criminals prosecuted accordingly, what is clear is that the culture that allowed this to happen needs to change. And it needs to change now," she said.

"SERIOUS SEXUAL CRIMES"

A spokeswoman said Mordaunt would discuss how her office and the NCA could work together to implement laws on sexual exploitation and abuse, but added that the meeting did not relate specifically to criminal activity involving Oxfam staff.

Haiti's minister of planning and external cooperation, Aviol Fleurant, said on Wednesday he had summoned Oxfam representatives to a meeting on Thursday to discuss "serious sexual crimes." Prostitution is a crime in Haiti.

Oxfam receives around 32 million pounds of British government funding a year. The European Commission has also said it could cut off its funding for Oxfam which stands at around 68 million euros ($84 million) a year.

This week, Mordaunt called on all British charities active abroad to be transparent about their operations.

Only six out of 10 global aid agencies were willing to disclose the extent of sex abuse by their staff in a survey conducted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The scandal has bolstered critics of Britain's commitment to spend the equivalent of 0.7 percent of economic output on foreign aid.

(Writing by William Schomberg; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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Reuters