Senior staffers at aid charities ‘ill-equipped’ to deal with racism in the sector, MPs conclude

Senior staff at global aid charities are “ill-equipped” to deal with racism in the sector, according to a highly critical report by members of parliament.

MPs on the International Development Committee said charity bosses must be prepared to make “painful and difficult” changes to their organisations in order to address the racism experienced by staff and beneficiaries.

The recommendation was made in the committee’s final report in its inquiry into racism in the aid sector, which was published this morning.

The report is also highly critical of fundraising campaigns at some aid charities, which depict recipients as “helpless and needy”, and suggests the government should cut off funding to large development charities that do not publish data on staff diversity.

A separate report last year suggested that almost two-thirds of aid workers had faced racism.

Lena Bheeroo, engagement and equity manager at the NGO umbrella body Bond and who gave evidence to the committee, said racism was “a serious and ongoing problem” in the development sector.

Today’s report says: “Some aid organisations are beginning to introduce measures to open up and encourage conversations about racism in their workplaces, but much more needs to be done to welcome diverse ideas and values.

“These processes are likely to be painful and difficult and will take courage on the part of leaders, managers and staff to be open, honest and committed to change.”

It says “different forms of discrimination that permeate British society manifest in the aid sector, too” and urges charities to “ensure their working practices and programmes are mindful of the intersecting identities of their staff and the people they serve”.

The report says: “Evidence submitted to this inquiry, and recent surveys by actors in the UK charity and international aid sectors, show the scale of racism experienced by staff who are black, indigenous and people of colour.

“Any level of racism in the workplace is unacceptable, and the findings that leaders and human resources departments are ill-equipped to deal with such incidents are deeply concerning.

“All aid organisations should have effective processes in place to tackle instances of racism when they occur. They should also be able to measure and assess whether those processes are working.”

The report welcomes the decision by many large charities to drop fundraising campaigns fronted by white celebrities visiting other parts of the world, but says: “Public appeals that depict the communities they serve as helpless and needy strip those communities of their dignity.”

It goes on: “They contribute to the narrative that the countries where they work are somehow inferior to the UK.”

The report also recommends the government should “require organisations that it funds, which employ more than 50 staff, to publish their diversity data”, and urges charities to “reduce barriers to entry” for new staff by “ending the use of unpaid internships and paying all employees the living wage, and removing unnecessary stipulations in job applications such as years of experience in the international aid sector and higher degrees”.

It says that while most officials at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office were understanding about the issue, “there was some arrogance on the part of others who did not want to listen”.

Bheeroo said: “Racism in the UK humanitarian and development sector is a serious and ongoing problem that must be addressed urgently.

“This report is a significant step in the right direction as it shines a light on the sector’s colonial legacy and power imbalances that allow decision-making to stay in the hands of high-income nations.”

Sarah Champion MP, chair of the International Development Committee, said: “The aid sector exists to help those in need. But it cannot do that effectively until it addresses the fundamental power imbalances that exist within its structures that allow racist practices to perpetuate.

“The vast majority of people working in development have honourable intentions and do great work, but they need to be aware of the risks of complacency.

“I ask the sector to listen to the voices in our report.

“Racism is real. It must be challenged at every level.”

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