On February 6th, 2019 Amnesty International released a Staff Wellbeing Review report whose results exposed a situation of recurrent abuses, bullying and depression for thousands of the agency’s employees, which referred to the company working environment as “toxic”.
Key findings of the report admit that “working at Amnesty often places staff under exceptional stress” mainly due to the unmanageable workload for employees paired with conflicting priorities and demands; a poor leading culture at the top levels; lack of correct and transparent communication practices; lack of personal efforts’ recognition and virtually no management of failures.
When asked to assess the sentence “My wellbeing is a priority for Amnesty’s leadership”, 65% of respondents disagreed with it. A significant proportion of
Amnesty staff (39%) also reported that they have developed mental or physical health issues as the direct result of working at Amnesty. Employees demand for better guidance through the daily tasks their job puts them through and for effective resources related to mental health. A striking 35% of staff reported that they didn’t know how to access wellbeing resources and support services at Amnesty.
“I have never before worked in a place where everyone works so alone, where people barely talk to each other, where you can’t expect to get help and support from your colleagues”
Apparently, an abusive culture is brought forward from the very top levels of the London-based NGO. Many staff gave specific examples of experiencing or witnessing bullying by managers. 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.” Further discriminations or harassments took place on the basis of gender and race with multiple accounts of abuses coming from women, staff of colour and people who identified as LGBTQI.
“A ‘martyrdom culture’ is present, which encourages people to sacrifice their own wellbeing because of the critical importance of the work.’”
The report was commissioned in August 2018 after the suicide of two Amensty’s employees. Gaëtan Mootoo — a 65 years old West African researcher who had worked for Amnesty for more than 30 years — took his life in Paris in May 2018 leaving a note in which he complained of work pressure and a lack of support from management. Amensty briefly responded to the note stating: “We are devastated by this.” Shortly after this tragic event the payed intern Roz McGregor, 28, was found dead. Her family claimed the victim had developed “acute anxiety” while working for the NGO’s office in Geneva over the course of five months.
Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty international’s Secretary General, defined the reportas “difficult to read” and “profoundly troubling” stating: “We are truly sorry […] the lesson has been learnt.” He committed to devise an action plan to change the course and end humiliating practices by March 2019.