Save the Children admits 'unsafe behaviour' in workplace

Save the Children shop Image copyright AFP

Save the Children failed to deal adequately with inappropriate behaviour complaints and there was evidence of "unsafe behaviour" towards staff at the charity, two reviews have said.

Reviews in 2015 found "significant omissions and failures" in their response to harassment complaints.

The charity said progress had since been made in its workplace culture.

Save the Children published its recommendations on Wednesday after the BBC revealed the failures.

Staff complaints prompted the reviews in 2015.

"We have chosen to make both sets of recommendations public to ensure there is a full picture of the situation at the time and the actions taken since," Save the Children said.

The BBC reported on Wednesday that the documents said the charity failed adequately to deal with allegations against its ex-chief executive Justin Forsyth.

One of the 2015 reports, leaked to Radio 4's PM programme, referred to concerns that the then chairman Sir Alan Parker's "very close" relationship with Mr Forsyth may have affected how he responded to complaints.

Three women employees accused Mr Forsyth of inappropriate behaviour, for which he said he had apologised.

Sir Alan said he had nothing to add.

A leaked email from the time cautioned that Mr Forsyth should not be alone with female employees.

Mr Forsyth said that he had taken "responsibility" for his mistakes "many years ago", but did "not accept as accurate much of what has been reported today, either in tone or fact".

He said he "strongly refutes a number of the claims" and added that he had not seen the leaked 2015 report.

'Significant omissions'

The review in relation to historical complaints found a management culture existed that "did not sufficiently adhere to established and published policies and procedures".

There were "significant omissions and failures" in the HR response to historical informal complaints around behaviour and the charity "failed in its obligation to adequately deal with issues raised in respect of inappropriate behaviour through its disciplinary procedures".

But its policies and procedures were fit for purpose and the omissions and failures "did not necessarily alter the outcome", it said.

The review on its culture found there were "significant employee engagement issues".

"There was evidence of uncomfortable and/or unsafe behaviour towards colleagues," the report said.

But the charity, overall, had "a positive workplace culture".

On Tuesday, protesters from the Women's Equality Party interrupted the charity's board meeting to call for Sir Alan's resignation as Chairman of Save the Children International.

In the leaked report, a complainant claims Save the Children told her not to tell anyone about her case and that both her and Mr Forsyth's reputations were at risk.

"They weren't trying to protect me or safeguard any other women. It was just about covering this up as quickly as they could," she said.

The report - by law firm Lewis Silkin - was written in October 2015. Months later, Save the Children provided a reference for Mr Forsyth when he applied for a job at UNICEF, which made no mention of the complaints.

Image copyright Save The Children
Image caption Justin Forsyth with Samantha Cameron in Lebanon in 2013

In a separate leaked email in 2015, a senior staff member said that allegations of sexual harassment made against Mr Forsyth were "not being treated with the appropriate degree of seriousness" and that "he should not be unaccompanied with female members of staff" until they could be sure his behaviour would not be repeated.

The senior staff member wrote that they had no confidence in Sir Alan Parker's handling of the complaints, saying he had "made a deliberate choice…not to fully investigate these allegations" and as a result had a "conflict of interest" in relation to the review.

'Whistle-blowing hotline'

In the review's recommendations, now published by the charity, it was advised to implement department plans to "strengthen culture".

It said there should be annual interactive group training for staff, training for the HR department and an anonymous whistle-blowing hotline introduced.

Since 2015, Save the Children said every staff member received training in "respect in the workplace" and a hotline has been set up.

Senior leadership workshops have taken place specifically addressing standards of good, acceptable behaviour and culture in the workplace, the charity said.

New recruits also now receive coaching and advice on the values of the organisation.

Save the Children UK said a new review of workplace ethics would ensure that what caused previous claimants hurt "cannot be repeated".

Ethics expert Dr Suzanne Shale, who is leading the independent review for the charity, said she "acknowledges that past events may have caused distress to staff, and disquiet amongst those who support the work of the charity. We will listen to those accounts very carefully and with utmost consideration".

Last month, the BBC revealed Mr Forsyth faced three complaints of inappropriate behaviour towards female staff before leaving Save the Children in 2015.

Days later, Mr Forsyth resigned from his role as deputy director of UNICEF, saying he did not want coverage of his past to "damage" the charities.

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Media captionAid organisations have vowed to do more to protect those they were set up to help

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