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Amnesty International must improve staff wellbeing and management accountability

JANUARY 13, 2020

Following the tragic death of Gaëtan Mootoo, Unite seeks commitment from Amnesty International to take concrete steps in improving staff wellbeing and management accountability.  Without this, it is impossible to create a safe and healthy workplace where employee ill-treatment is never tolerated. 

The following statement has been issued by the Unite union’s shop stewards committee at Amnesty International (International Secretariat).

Gaëtan Mootoo was our friend. He was a popular and highly-respected colleague. For more than 30 years he worked at Amnesty International. Gaëtan dedicated his life to defending human rights across West Africa, the region that he covered. He did so with professionalism and compassion.

Gaëtan took his own life at Amnesty International’s Paris office on 25 May 2018, leaving a note that stated he had not received the support from the organisation that he had requested.

Since then, Unite – which represents hundreds of Amnesty staff in offices around the world - has continued to insist that the circumstances surrounding Gaëtan’s death be fully investigated, that staff be involved in this investigation and that management address Amnesty’s workplace culture.

The report by the Committee for Sanitation, Safety and Work of Amnesty International France is the first step in understanding the pressures that Gaëtan felt. The committee noted that it was not its task to explain what caused his suicide. But it was able to point out a “combination of failures that certainly affected him. The cumulative effect of all the factors we analysed caused suffering.”

The committee concluded that these factors included the repeated failure of management to provide Gaëtan with the backing that he needed to continue to do his job to the highest possible standards. The committee suggested that this gave Gaëtan the feeling that management no longer valued his work.

Sadly, this reflects the experience of many union members, who have raised similar complaints with management and HR for years. The facts exposed in the report go in line with the findings of a recent internal survey indicating that around 30 per cent of respondents (employed by Amnesty's International Secretariat) had been "badly treated or bullied at work since January 2017". It is a tragedy that it has taken the death of a colleague to bring such issues to light.

At this early stage of Kumi Naidoo's mandate as Amnesty's secretary general we urge him to take, together with Unite the union, concrete steps in improving staff wellbeing and management accountability. Without this it is impossible to create a safe and healthy workplace where employee ill-treatment is never tolerated.

Amnesty International’s board and senior leadership team must ensure that the negative top-down management style within the organisation is eradicated and that the human rights standards we promote outside of the organisation are applied internally.

These would be a fitting tribute to Gaëtan’s memory.

Unite's Manifesto for culture change in the international development sector calls for radical change and sets out a ten point plan essential to create a culture where unacceptable behaviour is not tolerated, where people can report abuse or whistle-blow, and people will be held accountable for their actions and decision.  

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