OPINION: Stamp out injustices at work

PETER STANFORD, a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards

I went on a life-changing trip a few years back. A Catholic development agency took me all over Brazil to see the grassroots projects it funds.

I met some extraordinarily devoted people doing extraordinarily creative things in extraordinarily awful situations.

I will never forget in particular the exuberant welcome of a small community of farmers in the Amazon basin who led me from their tiny church after mass to a mud-walled house where they had cooked us a feast. I sat on a too-small stool trying to force the food down, acutely aware that the children peering in at me like an alien probably were going hungry so fat, well-fed me could eat. My instinct was to pass my heaped plate out to them, but that would have been rude and patronising. In the end I said a few fine words about solidarity, promised to write about their lives and, on leaving, wept at my own impotence.

It planted in my mind, though, a reference point that I try - falteringly - to return to in the course of life. When it's tempting in my cushy chattering-class world to get carried away with ever bigger mortgages and the latest money-making scheme, I think back to those villagers and draw a line.

Many in the third sector who work with the poor go through the same thought-process. Some, of course, would say there isn't an issue. They are paid a professional wage for a professional job and that's it. The greater number, though, struggle with the practicalities.

Most "solutions" - like my Brazilian yardstick - are imperfect but as a trustee I feel strongly that there is one thing we can do. Make sure that no members of staff in our organisation are exploited because of the pay scales we offer. Yes pay directors well to get talented people, but not at the expense of the cleaners. It is just too easy to see lifestyle questions as a matter for individual staff members. For the charity that can become a moral abdication. We have to give a lead to ensure that the injustices we encounter every day are not mirrored in our own offices.

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