Amnesty International suffering from ‘toxic’ workplace with rampant racism, sexism, bullying, report finds

Amnesty International, a leading human rights NGO, is facing criticism after a damning report revealed the organization is suffering from a toxic work environment and is in a “state of emergency” due to rampant bullying, sexism, racism and overworking.

The report, written by the KonTerra Group, found an “us versus them” dynamic and breakdown of trust between senior management and other staff members. Numerous instances of bullying and public humiliation by the management were also found.

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“As organizational 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 jeopardizing the organization’s mission,” the report read.

“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,’” it added

“As organizational 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 jeopardizing the organization’s mission.”

— Report on Amnesty International

The independent report was commissioned by the organization itself after two members of staff died by suicide last year within a period of six weeks. One victim explicitly blamed the stress caused by the workplace.

Gaëtan Mootoo, 65, was a veteran Amnesty International worker, devoting more than 30 years to the charity. He died inside the organization’s Paris office, the Guardian reported, leaving a note voicing complaints about work pressure and management’s lack of support.

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Five weeks later, Rosalind McGregor, a 28-year-old intern in Amnesty’s Geneva’s office also died by suicide. While an inquiry into her death noted that she had been troubled due to “personal reasons” and cleared the organization of wrongdoing, her family accused the charity of being a factor in her development of “acute anxiety” during her five-month internship.

Gaëtan Mootoo (left) and Rosalind McGregor (right) both died by suicide last year, prompting the commissioning of the report. Mootoo left a note voicing complaints about work pressure and management’s lack of support

Gaëtan Mootoo (left) and Rosalind McGregor (right) both died by suicide last year, prompting the commissioning of the report. Mootoo left a note voicing complaints about work pressure and management’s lack of support (Facebook)

The consultants interviewed nearly 475 Amnesty staff members, with many branding the workplace environment as “toxic.”

“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’.”

— Report on Amnesty International

“Amnesty International had a reputation for doing great work but being a hard place to work. 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’,” the report read.

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Staffers also revealed instances of racism and sexism and anti-LGBTQI sentiments in the workplace, with the report concluding that some examples of alleged abuse of power, discrimination and unfair treatment may warrant a further investigation.

Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty’s secretary-general, according to the Guardian, described the report as troubling and pledged to come up with a reform plan by the end of March.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.