Working environment at Amnesty International severely judged by own staff

February 8, 2019

That human rights NGOs are severely criticized is nothing new but that it comes from its own staff is rare. Still here is a report that states that “Amnesty International has had a “toxic” working environment going back as far as the 1990s”.  This does not mean that AI is specially bad compared to other larger NGOs, just that there are very few other such public reports.

The report into the organisation’s workplace culture was commissioned after two staff members from the organisation’s International Secretariat in London took their own lives last year. Undertaken by the KonTerra Group, the Staff Wellbeing Review finds a severe lack of trust in senior management – with bullying and public humiliation routinely used by the organisation’s leadership. It warns that nearly 40% of staff have developed mental or physical health issues as the direct result of working at Amnesty.

Although Amnesty is an organisation that employs many outstanding, talented, caring individuals; many former and current staff describe Amnesty as an environment in which staff do not feel that they are valued, protected, or treated with respect and dignity,” the report states. It noted that one staff member said the organisation is a place with “a toxic culture of secrecy and mistrust—a place where there are back-room deals.” “Even if you leave aside the unusual occupational stresses that attend exposure to details of human rights violations, this sort of organisational environment has exposed many staff to exceptional levels of stress in recent years,” they wrote.

In a statement, Amnesty International Secretary-General Kumi Naidoo (who only took over last year) said the report paints a sombre picture of Amnesty International’s internal track record. “To hear our employees speak of a culture of secrecy and mistrust where discrimination, bullying and abuse of power have been condoned is profoundly troubling,” he said.

He said senior management “takes shared responsibility for the climate which emerged where colleagues felt, or continue to feel, undervalued and unsupported – and we are truly sorry.” “But an apology is not enough,” he said. “We need to look after each other and develop compassion and mutual care to help Amnesty International become the uplifting community it needs to be.” He noted that “with the increasing pressure on human rights defenders globally, Amnesty International needs to be stronger and more effective than it has ever been, and our resolve and fortitude must start from within.”

The report finds that organisational culture and management failures are the root cause of most staff wellbeing issues – with the “adversarial culture” of the workplace, failures of management and human resources and pressures related to workload, the biggest contributors to the staff wellbeing issues. Still, I would think that perhaps we should not be astonished that many idealistic young professionals end up feeling frustrated in any large bureaucracy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: