Radical change needed at Amnesty International after new report reveals ‘toxic’ work culture
- Thursday 7 February 2019
Unite, the UK and Ireland’s largest union, has called for a radical change in the existing senior leadership at Amnesty International following a new report into the health and wellbeing of the workforce.
The report by the KonTerra Group, published last week, was commissioned following the suicides last year of staff members Gaetan Mootoo and Rosalind McGregor.
The report found that: “39 per cent of Amnesty International staff reported that they developed mental or physical health issues as the direct result of working at Amnesty”. The report concluded, “organisational culture and management failures are the root cause of most staff wellbeing issues.”
A statement by the Unite branch at Amnesty International has given its full support for the new secretary general Kumi Naidoo and “welcome the initiatives already put in place” and “his emphasis on changing the culture of the organisation.”
No confidence in senior leadership team
However, the Unite branch has no confidence in the rest of the senior leadership team which was in place prior to the two tragedies. The branch states: “It is unfeasible to imagine that given the findings in these reports, the senior leadership team can be considered as part of the solution.”
Moving forward the branch has called for Unite to be central to improving the working culture at the organisation. Saying: “The union has always been committed to changing the working culture of Amnesty in a constructive and co-operative manner and looks forward to working on this with the new secretary general.”
Unite regional co-ordinating officer Alan Scott said: “This report is a damning indictment of the toxic and dysfunctional working culture at Amnesty.
“It is absolutely intolerable that workers at Amnesty experience bullying, targeting and power misuse and the previous leadership team must take full responsibility for these failures.
“It is imperative that the findings of this report are not ignored and Amnesty now works closely with Unite to end the appalling working culture that currently exists.”
Notes to editors:
For more information please contact Unite communications officer Barckley Sumner on 020 3371 2067 or 07802 329235.
- Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.
Unite Amnesty Branch statement in full
Unite welcomes the publication on 31 January 2019 of the KonTerra report looking at the overall situation when it comes to staff well-being at Amnesty International’s International Secretariat.
The report points to a number of failings by management and notes that “39% of staff [that responded to the survey] reported that they developed mental or physical health issues as the direct result of working at Amnesty”.
Furthermore, it concludes that: “organisational culture and management failures are the root cause of most staff wellbeing issues”.
“The assessment team received many reports (from multiple offices and regions) of power misuse, discrimination, targeting, bullying and other practices which have undermined wellbeing.”
The report was commissioned in parallel to a report by James Laddie QC from Matrix Chambers in London (published on 19th November 2018) which looked into the suicide of respected colleague and long-standing employee of Amnesty International Gaëtan Mootoo at the Paris office on the 25 May 2018. This report in turn concluded that the findings “together, constitute a serious failure of management” but also “constitute, collectively, a breach of the duty of trust and confidence owed by [Amnesty International’s International Secretariat] to Mr Mootoo.”
These reports paint a very bleak picture of Amnesty International’s leadership team lead at the time by the then secretary general Salil Shetty.
But to be clear – none of the matters raised in either report should have come as a surprise to senior management and Human Resources, as these were issues raised numerous times over the years by the Union, and staff in the engagement survey.
The reports raise serious questions about how Amnesty has been managed, as well as the ability (or inability) of the International Board to provide oversight and ensure accountability.
Going forward, Section [the branch] welcomes the initiatives already put in place by the new secretary general Kumi Naidoo and his emphasis on changing the culture of the organisation. Section believes that in order for these to be successful, the following is necessary:
Accountability solution is essential, for ensuring that such tragedies are not repeated, and that systemic changes are implemented. A focus on only addressing the recommendations of both reports will not offer a long-term solution and cultural change the conclusions demand, and must just be the first step. Furthermore, a mere restructure of the senior leadership team does not constitute accountability. It is unfeasible to imagine that given the findings in these reports, the senior leadership team can be considered as part of the solution.
Staff – as represented by the union – must be at the heart of any solution. The union has always been committed to changing the working culture of Amnesty in a constructive and co-operative manner and look forward to working on this with the new Secretary General Kumi Naidoo.
Amnesty should acknowledge the importance of the Union in these matters and in particular, inform all Regional Directors that staff are to be encouraged to join the Union.
The Chair and members of the International Board need to reflect on their own roles in allowing Amnesty’s toxic management culture to flourish.
All cases of bullying, harassment, discrimination, and ill-treatment at Amnesty International, including those mentioned in the recent reports, should be immediately and independently investigated; appropriate disciplinary actions should be taken against those responsible. These are needed in order to rebuild trust in the organisation’s grievance procedure.
Gaëtan Mootoo was our friend. He was a popular and highly-respected colleague. For more than the 30 years that he worked at Amnesty International, Gaëtan dedicated his life to defending human rights across West Africa, the region that he covered. He did so with professionalism and compassion.
Gaëtan took his own life in Amnesty International’s Paris office on 25 May 2018, leaving a note that stated he had not received the support from the organization that he had requested. Since then, Unite – which represents hundreds of Amnesty staff in offices around the world - has continued to insist that the circumstances surrounding Gaëtan’s death be fully investigated, that staff be involved in this investigation and that management address Amnesty’s workplace culture.
On July 1, 2018, Rosalind McGregor, a highly regarded and high-performing intern hired by the Swiss Section and seconded to the IS, took her own life. Rosalind, known as Roz by her colleagues, was a 28-year-old British woman who served as an advocacy intern in the Geneva office and, prior to that, as a volunteer with Amnesty’s Mexico regional office. Roz’s suicide came as a deep shock. According to the review by KonTerra, which was commissioned by Amnesty’s International Secretariat, management’s response to the tragedy was inadequate: management widely announced Roz’s death before contact was made with the family