Save the Children admits failings after leaked report backs up inappropriate behaviour claims

The charity has published the findings of two confidential reviews of its culture, from 2015, after allegations emerged that its former chief executive sent inappropriate texts to female employees

Save the Children UK has admitted to a series of failings in its management and workplace culture in the wake of allegations that its former chief executive, Justin Forsyth, sent inappropriate texts to three junior female members of staff.

The charity made a series of admissions yesterday when it published the findings of two confidential reviews of its behaviour and culture, carried out in 2015.

It did so after the BBC leaked details from one of the reports, which said the charity had failed adequately to deal with the allegations against Forsyth.

The report also contained evidence suggesting a senior member of staff had said the claims against Forsyth were "not being treated with the appropriate degree of seriousness" and his "very close" relationship with the chairman at the time, Sir Alan Parker, might have affected how he responded to complaints, the BBC reported.

Forsyth, who last month said he had apologised for his mistakes, left Save the Children UK in 2016 to become deputy executive director of Unicef. Save the Children UK's reference for him did not mention the complaints. He resigned from Unicef last month.

Save the Children UK said in a statement that the BBC leak had prompted it to publish the findings and recommendations of its two reviews, which were conducted by external lawyers.

The findings relating to historical complaints included:

  • There were significant omissions and failures in HR response to historic informal complaints about behaviour.
  • Management culture did not sufficiently adhere to established and published policies and procedures.
  • The charity had failed in its obligation to adequately deal with issues raised in respect of inappropriate behaviour through its disciplinary procedure.

However, the review said the charity's polices and procedures were fit for purpose.

The findings relating to workplace culture included:

  • There were significant employee engagement issues.
  • There was evidence of uncomfortable/and or unsafe behaviour towards colleagues.

But it said there was, "overall, a positive workplace culture".

The lawyers recommended that Save the Children UK trustees and managers needed to "own" the culture by providing leadership on key questions of identity, purpose and standards, and prioritising people and culture issues.

They also recommended: that each departmental head should develop plans with the chief executive and human resources department to strengthen culture; the introduction of annual group training on the code of conduct rather than relying on online training modules; and the introduction of an anonymous whistleblowing hotline.

The charity statement said it had made "significant progress" on this since 2015.

It said every employee now received mandatory training on respect in the workplace and it had introduced an integrity hotline, which enables staff confidentially to report complaints about behaviour.

Save the Children UK said a review led by the organisational ethics expert Suzanne Shale, which was announced last month, would consider the charity's progress since the 2015 reviews and address recent concerns. It is due to report by June.

The charity told Third Sector that its current chief executive, Kevin Watkins, would not participate in the review panel.

Shale said: "The independent review team acknowledges that past events might have caused distress to staff and disquiet among those who support the work of the charity. We will listen to those accounts very carefully and with utmost consideration."

On Tuesday, protesters from the Women's Equality Party interrupted a Save the Children board meeting to call for Parker to resign as chair of Save the Children International.

The charity said it would not comment beyond its statement.

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