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 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 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 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.
Oxfam Canada traces its history to 1963, when the British-based Oxford Committee for Famine Relief sought to establish a Canadian branch. The Oxford Committee itself was founded to respond to famine in Nazi-occupied Greece during the Second World War. (‘Oxfam’ was the abbreviation used as the telex name.) By 1960 it was a major international non-governmental aid organization.
Lester Pearson (former Canadian Prime Minister) leads Oxfam's Miles for Millions March in 1967Oxfam Canada was independently incorporated in 1966; the first Board of Directors included 21 distinguished Canadians. By 1967, Oxfam Canada became a key organizer of the wildly successful “Miles for Millions" fundraising walks across the country. 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 analyze 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 organization in the 1990s, to mobilize public support for changing the policies that perpetuate poverty.
Today, Oxfam Canada works with over 100 partner organizations 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 our work.
Oxfam Canada is a founding member of Oxfam International, the federation of Oxfams worldwide.
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. Climate Change hits poor people first and worst, and increases suffering for millions of the world's poorest people as they face increasingly unpredictable weather, hunger and disease.
Oxfam has lots of 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 people donating things for free.
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 organization in people's wills. Many London Marathon competitors run to raise money for Oxfam, and Oxfam also receives funds in return for providing and organizing volunteer stewards at festivals such as Glastonbury. In conjunction with the Gurkha Welfare Trust, Oxfam also runs several Trailwalker events in Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Japan. Oxfam has near to 15,000 shops worldwide.Oxfam is an international business.
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 an orange drenched in blood. 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.
A non-fictional story, Into the Wild, recounts the life of Christopher McCandless, who in response to his parents (who he perceives as materialistic, manipulative, and domineering), destroys all of his credit cards and identification documents, donates $24,000 (nearly his entire savings) to Oxfam, and sets out on a cross-country hike to live alone in the Alaskan bush.