Fame and celebrity

Internal probe slams ‘abuse’ at U2 star Bono’s lobby group

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 March, 2018, 12:31pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 March, 2018, 8:05pm

The One Campaign, an advocacy organisation co-founded by Bono of the rock band U2, is acknowledging “an institutional failure” after an internal investigation revealed a pattern of abuse and misconduct among leadership in its Johannesburg office.

The charity, launched in 2004, focuses on fighting poverty and preventable diseases, particularly in Africa. “Actions. Speak. Louder.” is its official motto.

In a letter to members posted on its website on Friday, CEO Gayle Smith said that between 2011 and 2015 staff in South Africa were bullied, berated and belittled by managers.

‘It was like a full-on Caligula orgy’: Oxfam staff hired Haitian prostitutes during 2011 relief effort

In one instance, a supervisor made her employees work as party hostesses at her home on weekends.

The letter also says a female employee alleged that a supervisor made sexist and suggestive comments about her to a government official, and that she was demoted after refusing to have sex with the dignitary.

Smith, who joined the organisation in March 2017, said One Campaign learned about the allegations after the employees, who have all left, shared their grievances on social media in November last year. Smith wrote that the organisation then launched an internal investigation.

The sexual harassment allegations are so far uncorroborated, Smith wrote, but she stressed that the organisation does not “discount any allegation”.

The overall evidence from our investigation was sufficient for me to conclude that we needed to own an institutional failure
Gayle Smith, One Campaign CEO

Investigators were able to substantiate claims of bullying and harassment that included instances of the Johannesburg manager calling her staff names including “idiot”, ‘’stupid” and “worthless”,

The report also found that executive managers were made aware of the abuse, through emails and complaints filed through human resources but failed to stop it.

“The overall evidence from our investigation was sufficient for me to conclude that we needed to own an institutional failure and ensure that our organisation has in place the systems, policies and practices needed so that this never happens again,” Smith wrote.

Smith said both the employees who alleged the abuse and all leadership and executive management responsible for perpetrating abuses are no longer with the organisation.

The letter comes on the heels of reports of misconduct within other UK-based charities.

Anti-poverty charity Oxfam has come under fire over allegations that staff working in Haiti following a devastating 2010 earthquake hired prostitutes.

The deputy executive director of Unicef, a children’s aid foundation, recently resigned after he was accused of acting inappropriately towards female staff while working at a different charity, Save the Children.

More than 1,000 women recently signed an open letter calling for increased accountability surrounding sexual harassment and assault in the aid sector, with the hashtags #ReformAid and #AidToo.

Charities must abide by the highest standards

Smith wrote that she has introduced new systems to help ensure accountability, including hiring a new executive director for Africa and planning to place a human resources manager on site in South Africa.

“We’ve got an obligation to find out how we do better,” Smith said.

A spokesman for One Campaign said Bono was made aware of the findings in November, soon after the former employees tweeted about them.