Amnesty International UK ‘exhibits institutional racism’, investigation finds

The charity has announced the initial findings of an independent investigation into claims of racism before the full report is published in May

Amnesty International UK “exhibits institutional racism” according to an independent inquiry, which is also calling for improvements in the charity’s working culture, leadership and governance.

The charity commissioned the inquiry last year in the wake of allegations of racism and a toxic culture by former staff and former board members.

Sacha Deskmukh, the charity’s interim chief executive, told Third Sector that although the final report was not due to be published until May, Global HPO, the HR consultancy carrying out the inquiry, had informally shared its initial findings with the charity.

Deskmukh said he wanted to share the initial findings in order to be more transparent.

In a statement yesterday, the charity said: “Global HPO’s view is that Amnesty UK exhibits institutional racism; and previously failed to properly embed equality, inclusion and anti-racism in its practices.”

It said there had been some improvements since last summer, but that “significant progress is required” to the charity’s leadership, management and governance capabilities, the collection and evaluation of equality and diversity data, and the working culture across the whole organisation.

The statement said the inquiry had also called for improvements to the charity’s organisational infrastructure, learning and development, and updates to policies and procedures.

The initial phase of the inquiry included a review of recent policies and an analysis of employment data from 2017 to 2021, as well as one-to-one interviews and focus groups involving about 130 people, including 90 current staff members.

The second phase of the inquiry, which is already underway, includes meetings with staff and board members to co-create solutions.

Further details of the required improvements are expected to be included in the final inquiry report, due to be published in May.

Deshmukh told Third Sector: “I recognise the findings that have already been shared with us in their totality.

“Amnesty has not always been transparent with itself or the outside world, so we wanted to speak before we got the final report, because if you really want to address things and improve you’ve got to be open.

"We agreed with Global HPO that this would ensure that the co-creation stage was as meaningful as possible.”

He added that he also believed announcing the findings as soon as possible was the right thing to do.

“If you know something of this seriousness, the right thing to do is to be open, say it early and not try to hide it, and that’s more of the Amnesty that we want to be in the future,” Deshmukh said.

He said the board had committed to publish the full report and to implement the recommendations of the report in full.

“I don’t want to sugarcoat anything about this, but the inquiry also talked about the massive strengths of the organisation and I have felt that coming in,” he said.

“A lot of what we do is incredibly high quality, we’ve high-quality people and passionate commitment to the cause, and yet we’ve got an environment where, by and large, people would say they aren’t happy and wouldn’t recommend working here.”

Deshmukh said this suggested “a fundamental problem with the organisation’s culture, the leadership’s understanding of organisational development and the emphasis that has been put on those things over decades”.

He said: “We genuinely have the opportunity to transform the organisation. I’m not in any way depressed by this, I’m pleased with its clarity, with how much it resonates and how much staff are saying that it resonates.

“I’m also pleased the inquiry is saying we’ve made improvements but we’re also clear they're saying don’t think you’ve run the whole race yet.”

Deshmukh took up the role as interim chief executive in May last year, following the departure of Kate Allen, who stepped down four months before she had planned to amid concerns that neither Amnesty’s international secretariat nor the UK charity were doing enough to tackle institutional racism.

The charity’s international secretariat has also been accused of overt racism by workers.

Deshmukh said applications for the permanent chief executive were still open, with the appointment expected to be announced in June.

He confirmed that he has applied for the role.

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