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Purge at Amnesty International as abusive practices and toxic workplace conditions are exposed

Wednesday, May 29th 2019 - 08:48 UTC
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Amnesty said the senior leadership team accepted responsibility and all seven had offered to resign Amnesty said the senior leadership team accepted responsibility and all seven had offered to resign

Amnesty International is to lose most of its senior leadership team after a report said it had a “toxic” workplace. The human rights organization's secretary-general, Kumi Naidoo, ordered an independent review after two employees killed themselves last year. In the review, one staff member described Amnesty as having “a toxic culture of secrecy and mistrust”.

Amnesty said the senior leadership team accepted responsibility and all seven had offered to resign. Five of the seven senior leaders, based mainly in London and Geneva, are now believed to have left or are in the process of leaving the organization.

The Times reported that they were to receive “generous” redundancy payments - but an Amnesty spokeswoman told the BBC the redundancy packages were “less favorable than those on offer to other staff”.

In May 2018, Gaëtan Mootoo, 65, killed himself in Amnesty's Paris offices. He left a note talking of stress and overwork. A subsequent inquiry found he was unhappy over a “justified sense of having been abandoned and neglected”.

Six weeks later, Rosalind McGregor, 28, a British intern working at Amnesty's Geneva office, killed herself at her family home in Surrey.

While an inquiry into her death noted “personal reasons” as being involved, her family said they felt Amnesty could have done more to address her mental health.

Around 475 members of staff were surveyed for the independent review, which was published in February. Many staff gave specific examples of experiencing or witnessing bullying by managers.

There were reports of managers belittling staff in meetings and making demeaning and menacing comments, for example: “You should quit. If you stay in this position, your life will be a misery.”

There were multiple accounts of discrimination on the basis of race and gender, and in which women, staff of color, and LGBT employees were allegedly targeted or treated unfairly.

The report also pointed to an “us versus them” dynamic between employees and management.

“Across many interviews the word 'toxic' was used to describe the Amnesty work culture as far back as the 1990's. So were the phrases 'adversarial', 'lack of trust', and 'bullying',” the report said.

Unite, which represents hundreds of Amnesty staff in offices around the world, revealed that one of three employees  recently surveyed by the union felt “badly treated or bullied at work since 2017”.

An Amnesty International spokeswoman told the BBC: “The former Senior Leadership Team, which comprised of seven directors, has been dissolved and a new transitional team is in place until all of the positions in the new four-person Coalition Leadership Team are filled.

”This is expected to be completed by the end of 2019.”

Amnesty is not the only human rights organization to come under fire for its treatment of employees.A report earlier this year said that bullying and harassment were commonplace at Oxfam, and last year Save the Children was at the centre of serious allegations of workplace sexual harassment.

Categories: Politics, International.

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