LONDON, Oct 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Save the Children UK should reform its whistleblowing procedures to ensure anonymous complaints are dealt with, an independent panel tasked with reviewing the charity after it was rocked by a sex scandal said on Monday.
The charity ordered an independent review of its workplace culture after it was criticised for its handling of sexual misconduct complaints against former chief executive Justin Forsyth and ex-policy chief Brendan Cox between 2012 and 2015.
The panel, led by ethics expert Suzanne Shale, criticised a policy of not automatically investigating allegations if they are made anonymously.
Chief executive Kevin Watkins pledged to act on the recommendations and said staff would be consulted on plans to improve working culture.
“There have been failures in our organisational culture and processes, including widely reported historic cases in which there were abuses of power and authority,” he said.
“It must never happen again.”
The panel found most staff had not suffered inappropriate conduct while working at the charity, but 28 percent reported in a staff survey that they had experienced either discrimination or harassment within the last three years.
Many of the issues related to being ignored or belittled, with a small number saying they had suffered gender-based harassment and unwanted sexual remarks and innuendo.
The panel also recommended that the charity draw up additional measures to reduce “workplace incivility” and take action to improve the diversity of its staff and board.
Shale said the levels of “incivil” or inappropriate behaviour were similar to those in other non-profit organisations.
“Any experiences of interpersonal mistreatment at work are disturbing,” she said.
“They can cause particularly high levels of distress when people are committed both personally and professionally to protecting others who are vulnerable.”
The Charity Commission, a watchdog, is holding a separate inquiry into allegations against Save the Children. It has not yet released its findings.
The aid sector was rocked by reports earlier this year that staff at several major charities were involved in sexual misconduct, with charities pledging to overhaul their response to allegations after an outcry over the issue.
An exclusive survey by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in February found more than 120 staff from leading global charities were fired or lost their jobs in 2017 over sexual misconduct. (Reporting by Sonia Elks, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, resilience and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)