Thankfully, and finally, organizations all over the world are undergoing a long overdue revolution over workplace conduct. The movement to expose harassment and abuse and improve the environments in which we work has touched every sector, from corporate boardrooms and government halls to media newsrooms and aid organizations. That includes the ONE Campaign.
I joined ONE as its new CEO and President in March 2017 because I believe in its mission and have witnessed its impact. One year in, I’m all the more motivated by the commitment, creativity and capacity of our staff around the world. But I’ve also learned in recent months of some historical issues that deeply troubled me, and I want to share with you, our members, what I learned and what we have done since.
These issues first came to my attention in November 2017 when former employees from our Johannesburg office spoke on social media about being mistreated during their time at the organization and said that their complaints at the time had not been addressed. Upon learning of these reports, we acted quickly on three fronts – to reach out and listen to those individuals who were willing to speak to us; to inform our current staff and board about what we had learned; and to launch an internal investigation of the records, supported by external law firms in South Africa and Washington, to determine whether these allegations had merit.
The investigation yielded evidence of unprofessional conduct and, in particular, what I would characterize as bullying and belittling of staff between late 2011 and 2015 in our Johannesburg office. Staff were called names, and some said their manager put them to work on domestic tasks in her home. The investigation also found the situation was not adequately addressed nor resolved by executive management at the time, and that ONE’s board was not, in my view, properly or fully informed.
Additionally, when a mediator and ONE staff met with the former employees in November, one former employee described how her manager made sexist and suggestive comments about her to a government official from another country. On March 7, 2018, when some of the former employees notified us of their intent to take legal action and seek compensation, they informed us of a new allegation that she was demoted because she did not become intimate with the official. We have not been able to corroborate these appalling claims. We do not discount any allegation — we investigate them and will continue to do so should others arise.
The former employees have also raised questions about ONE’s status in South Africa during the time they worked at the organization. Since 2015, ONE has been employing people directly through its local affiliate, ONE Campaign Africa. The investigation showed that from 2010-2015, ONE was acting as a nonresident taxpayer as it explored making Johannesburg its Africa hub.
The overall evidence from our investigation was sufficient for me to conclude that we needed to own an institutional failure and ensure that our organization has in place the systems, policies and practices needed so that this never happens again.
Although there have been many changes to our management team since the time of these allegations, I am the President and CEO here today, so I have taken and will continue to take responsibility. And my choice, since the beginning, has been to move swiftly and transparently, including by last week voluntarily sharing with the UK Charity Commission our report of the investigation and the steps we have taken.
I came to ONE to lead it into the future, and with a charge to ensure that its institutional foundations reflect its principles and can sustain our ambition. The steps I have taken include strengthening the organization’s policies, procedures and practices and hiring a new Chief Operating Officer, Chief of Staff, Chief People Officer, and a new Executive Director for Africa. I have also created a new Office of the General Counsel. But a safe and welcoming workplace needs more than good people. So, we have also instituted mandatory management and supervisor training and mandatory gender, unconscious bias and cultural awareness training. We’re also requiring regular “360 reviews” for supervisors so that staff can rate their superiors, and we have improved our entrance and exit interviews.
As I have told our staff, we need to ensure that they can report problems or concerns, confident in the belief that they will be heard and their confidence protected, so we’re planning to put in place an anonymous tip and complaint voice messaging system. We’re modifying our South Africa Employee Handbook, and will be adding a Human Resources Manager to our growing Africa team.
I have personally extended my deepest apologies to the former employees who shared their stories with us. We have offered to support them with personal and professional services. And we have assured them this kind of behavior will never again be tolerated at ONE.
I believe that because organizations across the non-profit sector strive to make the world a better place, we have a special obligation to ensure that our institutions embody the values we champion.
I want to say publicly and unequivocally – behavior by any member of my team that undermines the dignity of others will not be tolerated. We are only as good as our people and our values, and as ONE’s important work continues, I assure you I will be relentless in protecting both. But I also want to assure you that my commitment to this organization and its mission is as strong as ever.
We are an organization of activists, and I am grateful that those activist instincts led these former employees to bring this to our attention and demand that we do better. With your continued support and tireless efforts, we will remain focused on the important work we do to fight for justice, equality and opportunity for all.