Save the Children US's award to Tony Blair puts Justin Forsyth on the spot

Save the Children employees around the world signed an internal petition calling for the withdrawal of the award, which was given for leadership in international development. Annette Rawstrone reports

Justin Forsyth
Justin Forsyth

The decision by Save the Children US to present an award for leadership in international development to Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister, has left Justin Forsyth, chief executive of Save the Children UK, dealing with dissent from his own staff and some embarrassing publicity.

Forsyth was previously a special adviser to Blair, and other senior figures at the charity also have close links to either the former Prime Minister or the Labour government: Brendan Cox, director of policy and advocacy, was previously a special adviser to Prime Minister Gordon Brown; Fergus Drake, director of global programmes, worked for the Office of Tony Blair in Rwanda; and Jonathan Powell, Blair's former chief of staff when he was Prime Minister, is a trustee of Save UK.

More than 500 Save the Children employees around the world signed an internal petition calling for the withdrawal of the award, which they said was "morally reprehensible" and a danger to the charity's credibility, principally because of Blair's role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Call to rescind award

A petition on the website of the campaigning group 38 Degrees calling for the award to be rescinded has attracted nearly 122,000 signatures, some from people saying they would no longer donate to the charity.

Save UK has emphasised in a statement that Save US is an autonomous organisation over which it has no control. But a letter to staff from Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of Save the Children International, obtained by The Guardian newspaper, said that Forsyth, on behalf of Carolyn Miles, president and chief executive of Save US, gave the invitation to Blair to attend the awards event.

Blair's contribution

The letter from Whitbread said that Save US "simply did not anticipate anything sensitive - in the USA, Tony Blair is widely seen very positively for his contribution to international aid".

In the letter, Whitbread said Forsyth and Miles agreed with her that "there should have been a better process of consultation and risk assessment, and we must learn from this".

It seems clear from this sequence of events that some of the criticism has been directed at Forsyth, but he has declined to give any interviews about the situation.

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