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Amnesty condemned for ‘toxic’ workplace culture

AMNESTY International was told to learn lessons today following a damning report into its “toxic” environment of bullying, public humiliation and power abuses.

A review into the human rights organisation’s workplace culture was commissioned after two employees, Gaetan Mootoo and Rosalind McGregor, committed suicide last year.

The report, by psychologists and organised by workplace management support group KonTerra, found that Amnesty employees have a generalised lack of trust in senior management and that a highly divisive culture exists within the organisation.

Amnesty is said to be operating in a permanent “state of emergency,” and that a difficult process of workplace restructuring and decentralisation has led to growing tensions between staff.

Staff reported having a “significant risk” of developing secondary stress and that an “adversarial” workplace culture contributed to allowing the deterioration of workers’ mental health.

Startlingly, many of the 475 employees interviewed said they had experienced racial and sexual discrimination, and claimed that LGBT, women and people of colour were unfairly targeted by management.

The review said: “There were multiple reports of managers belittling staff in meetings, deliberately excluding certain staff from reporting, or making demeaning, menacing comments like: ‘You’re shit!’ or: ‘You should quit! If you stay in this position, your life will be a misery.’

“As organisational rifts and evidence of nepotism and hypocrisy become public knowledge they will be used by government and other opponents of Amnesty’s work to undercut or dismiss Amnesty’s advocacy around the world, fundamentally jeopardising the organisation’s mission.

“Across many interviews the word ‘toxic’ was used to describe the Amnesty work culture as far back as the 1990s. So were the phrases ‘adversarial,’ ‘lack of trust’ and ‘bullying’.”

Amnesty secretary general Kumi Naidoo said the review was a “profoundly troubling” read, and said that he is initiating a reform plan to be implemented by the end of March.

Unite’s branch at Amnesty International backed Mr Naidoo’s plans yesterday, but said it had no confidence in senior management, adding: “It is unfeasible to imagine that given the findings in these reports, the senior leadership team can be considered as part of the solution.”

The union’s regional co-ordinating officer Alan Scott said: “This report is a damning indictment of the toxic and dysfunctional working culture at Amnesty.

“It is absolutely intolerable that workers at Amnesty experience bullying, targeting and power misuse and the previous leadership team must take full responsibility for these failures.

“It is imperative that the findings of this report are not ignored and Amnesty now works closely with Unite to end the appalling working culture that currently exists.”

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