'Wholesale and organisational' failures at Amnesty International UK, racism inquiry concludes

The independent report lists nine previous action plans the charity has been the subject of in recent years but says it has 'not responded/acted consistently on any of them'

Failures identified at Amnesty International UK were “wholesale and organisational” an inquiry into institutional racism at the charity has found. 

The inquiry report, published today, describes the charity as having “a culture that bullies” and points out that it had repeatedly failed to take action following a number of similar reviews in the past. 

Sacha Deshmukh, the charity’s interim chief executive, promised change and told Third Sector he believed the organisation now had “a breadth and depth of experience in organisational development” at leadership level it had previously lacked.

An interim report for the inquiry, published in April, found that the charity “exhibits institutional racism”.  

The inquiry, conducted by the management consultancy Global HPO, praised AUIK’s human rights work around the world, but, it said it encountered a feeling among staff “that AIUK is full of ‘good people doing good things and who therefore cannot be doing bad things’”.

Today's report says: “This perception fed into the notion that racism and inequality internally couldn’t be as bad as all that, and therefore race equality work had not been given sufficient priority or was demoted when it decided that there were more pressing issues.”

It goes on to say that “the failures that had been identified were, and are, wholesale and organisational” and that “AIUK has a culture that bullies”. 

This bullying was not just “from managers to more junior staff, but also upwards from junior staff to managers and across the organisation between colleagues including volunteer activists” and there was “a tolerance for bad and abusive behaviour”, the report says.

The report lists nine previous action plans which the charity had been the subject of in recent years, but says AIUK “had not responded/acted consistently on any of them”. 

Many staff members who spoke to the inquiry said there had been “bold statements being made, promises to change, yet no follow through” which had created a “collapse in trust” and “a lot of frustration”. 

The report says the focus on the charity’s external work at the expense of its internal structures has led to an organisation that was “expert and professional at what they do externally but inept and amateur at what they do internally”, and that this “shortsightedness” risks “derailing the entire operation”. 

It acknowledges the “ambitious” plan the charity had already put in place to tackle the issue and says it was making recommendations with that plan in mind - but it also says the current version of the plan is “somewhat disjointed and is effectively a ‘to do’ list of actions” and is not specific enough. 

The report says changes will not happen overnight, but its recommendations include establishing a set of organisational values featuring equality, dignity and respect, measuring the employment outcomes for black staff in particular and regular progress reports between senior management and the board. 

It also calls for training for those in recruitment around unconscious bias, for HR staff on how to support colleagues, for managers about managing diversity and for all staff on how to recognise and challenge discrimination.

Sen Raj, chair of the Amnesty International UK section board, said the charity was grateful to the individuals who had shared their experiences of racism in AIUK. 

He said: “The difficult and vital work of dismantling institutional racism is ongoing.” 

Deshmukh, who joined the charity in May last year, said the charity would not shy away from the work it needed to do, which was clearly “long overdue”. 

When asked why this report was more likely to spark change than the nine previous investigations which preceded it, he said:

“The difference this time is that I genuinely don't think that previously, the leadership at Amnesty had the breadth and depth of experience in organisational development to realise what actually needed to be done to change the culture and working practices.”

He said he believed there had also been a mindset in the past which viewed problems with racism as the “the exception rather than the rule” and not as indicative of a broader cultural issue. 

Following a “significant number” of changes to personnel on the management team and on the board, he said: “I think we now have people with a strong track record of delivering high quality, positive, happy working environments, which genuinely are inclusive and have accessibility.”

He welcomed the criticism of the charity’s current plan for change, saying the feedback would “help us to improve, not just that plan, but frankly, a huge number of the things that needed to go way beyond that”. 

Deshmukh took up the role as interim chief executive following the departure of Kate Allen, who stepped down four months before she had planned to amid concerns that neither Amnesty’s international secretariat nor the UK charity were doing enough to tackle institutional racism.  

The charity’s international secretariat has also been accused of overt racism by workers.

The appointment of the next chief executive is expected to be announced this month. Deshmukh has applied for the role.


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