Former Amnesty International UK trustees call for its leadership to be suspended over toxic culture claims

Two former Amnesty International UK board members have written to the charity accusing its leaders of “insufficient action” and failing to investigate evidence of a toxic culture.

Ex-board member James Lovatt and former vice-chair Hannah Perry revealed they had written separate letters to the human rights organisation over the past few days calling for its leadership to be suspended and for it to “publish evidence of its awareness of a toxic culture for BME staff”.

Perry, as vice-chair and a board member between 2011 and 2018, issued an apology for her own “inaction and silence” and for failing to act sooner on what she described as “clear evidence” of institutional racism in 2017.

Lovatt also apologised for his role in “not getting voices heard earlier” as he called for senior leadership to be suspended.

He said he had shared evidence of a toxic culture with the charity’s director, Kate Allen, in February 2019, but it was dismissed as an isolated incident.

“This moment now can't be allowed to pass without significant action,” said Lovatt.

Allen announced last month that she would step down from AIUK later this year after more than two decades in the role.

The new allegations follow the publication of an internal review last week that found incidents of overt racism at its international secretariat, a separate body but also based in the UK, including senior staff using the P-word and the N-word.

Third Sector spoke to several former AIUK staff who accused the organisation of being “institutionally racist” and called for all its senior leaders to step down.

The union Unite said it would put forward a motion echoing the call for the senior management team and its chair to resign.

It also accused AIUK of “misdirection” and “inaccuracies” in its response to media coverage earlier this week.

A “wholehearted” apology has already been released on behalf of the international secretariat, and a separate statement by AIUK promised to investigate the allegations against it “thoroughly in line with our policies and procedures”.

In the meantime, Almas Korotana, another former AIUK staff member, shared her experience from one-and-a-half years at the charity.

She said: “I was astounded by the lack of due process in place when white team members were being repeatedly promoted, compared with the experience of myself and other people of colour who were consistently made to interview against external candidates for roles.

“This is just one example of us not being afforded the same fair process and job security as our white counterparts.

“The contrast was so stark, and deeply upsetting.”

Severija Bielskytė also shared her experience of working as an unpaid intern at AIUK.

She said she was sometimes treated as if she did not exist and was pressured to take on more unpaid hours.

Bielskytė said she even signed a contract, but it was withdrawn on the day it was due to start. This led her to going into debt because she had quit a paid job believing she no longer needed the income.

“Unpaid internships and so-called ‘volunteering’ opportunities are exploitation, plain and simple," she said. “This is another symptom of unfairness at Amnesty and the sector more widely, felt even more greatly by people of colour.”

Third Sector understands the charity’s senior leadership will meet over the next two days to discuss the new allegations.

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