Following some negative press articles, the Chair and Director of Amnesty UK have responded in detail and this is their statement below.
We both wanted to write to you directly in the light of the recent negative media coverage about Amnesty International. This is a difficult time for our movement and we hope that it is helpful for us to explain what has happened, how Amnesty International UK is affected and how the issues raised are being handled.
There have been two areas of recent media attention:
– the first has been culture and management practice at the International Secretariat
– the second has been allegations of caste-based discrimination at Amnesty India.
Taking each of these in turn:
1.Culture and management practice at Amnesty International, International Secretariat (IS)
In Summer 2018 Amnesty’s International Secretariat (IS) commissioned independent reviews following the tragic suicides of two International Secretariat staff members.
The reports produced describe a very difficult working culture at the International Secretariat and unacceptable management practices, attitudes and behaviours. There has been coverage of all or some of these reports in The Times, The Guardian and The Daily Mail.
We have both been shocked by what we have read in the reports about some of the management practices, and the culture at the IS, and it is absolutely right that the new Secretary General of Amnesty International, Kumi Naidoo, deals with this as a matter of priority. He has our utmost support in doing that.
Kumi has said:
“The tragic deaths of our beloved colleagues Gaëtan Mootoo and Rosalind McGregor have triggered important questions here at Amnesty International about staff-wellbeing.
We accept and welcome the findings and criticisms of all three independent reviews that have been commissioned into these tragic events.
While the review into Rosalind McGregor’s death concludes that her working situation at Amnesty International did not play a significant, if any, role in her tragic decision, what all three reviews make clear is that we have a difficult but necessary journey ahead of us in improving wellbeing.
As I have reiterated to staff, I have made it one of my priorities to address instances where individuals have been found wanting, in our senior leadership team or elsewhere. Unacceptable management practices, attitudes and behaviours cannot and will not be tolerated at any level in the organization.
However, the issues highlighted go beyond the question of individual accountability. It is clear we need radically to rethink our approach to staff wellbeing and culture and we are in the process of establishing and rolling out credible and effective wellbeing measures. The recommendations of this review complement current approaches and identify concrete steps towards delivering a comprehensive commitment to staff wellbeing and health. I will be making this one of my core priorities from here on in.”
It is important to make it clear that the reports are not referring to Amnesty International UK. They refer only to our International Secretariat, which is in a different part of London. AIUK has our own building, board of trustees, charity number, senior management and staff team.
However, we are all one Amnesty family, and there must be lessons that we can learn at AIUK from the report, and we too will prioritise work on staff wellbeing and welfare. We completely share Kumi’s commitment to put wellbeing at the heart of our work across the Amnesty movement and his view that we need to look after each other and develop compassion and mutual care to help Amnesty International become the uplifting community it needs to be.
We hope this can give you reassurance that Amnesty, across the movement, is taking these issues very seriously and is committed to improving the way we work together in order to create an environment which allows us to flourish and effectively deliver the important work we do.
We have had some feedback from supporters in response to the media reports. To date we have had 10 membership cancellations. We do hope that your campaigning is not directly affected by this, and please do get in touch if we can help you respond to feedback that you receive.
2. Allegations of caste-based discrimination at Amnesty India
An article relating to allegations of discrimination at Amnesty India was published online in the Guardian on February 15th. The article alleges that staff were discriminated against because of their caste.
Amnesty India has a long-standing policy of promoting diversity through affirmative action in recruitment and tries to ensure the workplace reflects the diversity of India across gender, caste, religion and disability. Over 40% of the current workplace identifies as – using Indian government definitions – Dalit, Adivasi or ‘other backward class’, according to a staff survey in 2018. Across their six offices, there were two formal complaints about discrimination and harassment in 2018. Both were dismissed after thorough investigations.
Amnesty India has commissioned a review by an independent committee whose report has just been published. The committee was headed by Dr. Syeda Hameed, an eminent activist and writer.
The report has now been shared with staff at Amnesty India and is available with responses from the board and management on the Amnesty India website.
Aakar Patel, Head of Amnesty India, has said in response:
“We are grateful to the Syeda Hameed Committee for their report, whose release was delayed because of disruptions caused by the Enforcement Directorate raid on our offices. It reassures us that we’ve made our workplace diverse in many ways and followed due process in dealing with complaints, but also reminds us that we have a long way to go to address discrimination in all its forms.
We accept all the findings of the committee, and we will ensure that we implement the recommendations made by it and the board to protect employee well-being. We will reinvigorate our efforts to show our staff, members and partners, that respect and dignity are not just things we campaign for externally but are values at the heart of our organization.”
It is critically important that discrimination of any sort is not tolerated within Amnesty International. Amnesty UK will support our new Secretary General’s commitment to tackling this.
In conclusion, we are very sorry to see Amnesty in the media in this way and we hope that it doesn’t negatively impact on the important campaigning and fundraising work that you are doing, and on overall our effectiveness as a section.
Most importantly, it is vital that the IS and the Amnesty movement as a whole learns from the findings of these reports, and our experience over the past year. We need to take the steps required to make Amnesty a better place to work and so become a more effective force for human rights change. We are both committed to that and we have both been impressed by Kumi’s commitment to make the changes needed. We are very pleased that he will be at our AGM and National Conference this year to speak and take questions. We hope you will be able to join us there.
Ruth Breddal and Kate Allen
If you are reading this in the Salisbury, Amesbury, Wilton or Downton areas, we would be pleased to welcome you to our local group. The best way is to keep an eye on this site or on Facebook or Twitter and come along to one of our events. We are hosting a film this Friday, 8 March at the Arts Centre and we shall be in evidence then.