The International Rescue Committee reinforces the “culture of white supremacy,” staff have alleged, and the aid organization subsequently hired a law firm to review its policies related to discrimination, harassment and retaliation, it can reveal. The Guardian.
Led by former UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband, IRC is a major NGO with 20,000 employees and volunteers and a budget of $ 800 million. It delivers aid in more than 40 countries, primarily in Africa, and helps resettle refugees in the United States, with operations primarily directed from New York.
In a statement to The Guardian, three former employees and six current members accused IRC leaders of “disparaging, disparaging and retaliating” against employees seeking to make significant anti-racist changes internally following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor last year. past.
“The IRC leadership has belittled, exhausted, retaliated against [staff], and they demonstrated to be deeply committed to coloniality and the culture of white supremacy through their lack of commitment to real and tangible change, “he said.
“The IRC made public statements supporting Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate, but those of us who organize internally to work against racism and decoloniality face countless obstacles and pushback from senior leaders.
“In the past year alone, a large number of Bipoc / BAME staff left the organization, many of them at least in part due to IRC’s lackluster diversity, equality and inclusion. [DEI] works. Several current and former staff members have filed complaints related to their treatment within the organization, including harassment by senior management. “
The IRC said it has engaged a law firm to conduct an independent review of concerns regarding its approach to diversity, equality and inclusion. He added that “it was founded to help people survive in the face of racist violence and oppression and we are committed to racial and social justice. These values are central to IRC’s mission to help people survive, recover, and gain control of their lives.
There are also serious concerns among staff about the lack of diversity among directors and board members, particularly given the nature of the organization’s work and that former refugees are sometimes initially hired to perform lower-level, lower-paying jobs.
Staff were angry that they were censored last year for circulating a petition ratified by some 150 members of the IRC’s Global Anti-Racism and Decoloniality (Gard) network to obtain signatures internally. He called for the organization to be democratized and for top leaders to be significantly more accountable, in a comprehensive and detailed set of proposals.
In an email to staff, Miliband addressed the demands, saying: “We do not agree with some of the characterizations in the letter, but we found many practical recommendations in your document to align with the workflows already in place with the DEI team, as well as ideas that we have discussed with you and we hope will form part of the DEI action plan ”.
They were also told by Senior Vice President Ricardo Castro that the IRC prohibited the use of its platforms to request signatures for petitions, as it could have a “coercive effect on staff who might feel pressured to sign in part because they assume that the use of the platforms of IRC implies the endorsement of the request on the part of the organization “.
While colleagues were still welcome to post the petition on the IRC intranet, he also said that “allowing signature collection requests in some cases and not others would require IRC to make content-based judgments on which petitions to allow. , which would open IRC to content-based censorship accusations. “
Castro added: “To the extent that the content of the petition was raised to be ‘IRC-related’, as far as we know, it is not presented directly as part of anyone’s work at IRC or directly to promote business and communication. IRC programming and is therefore out of the scope of what is allowed. “
A supposedly frigid pace of change in the months after this document was released, as the Black Lives Matter movement snowballed, led to a number of staff members to complain and some to leave. However, it is understood that IRC is now set to take on a significant number of Gard’s recommendations after extensive behind-the-scenes work.
Former Grants Manager Serwat Asante, who now works for a similar organization, said: “A senior official rebuked me publicly in a recorded video call for asking about decision-making and the imbalance of power during the DEI discussions.
“I was also labeled ‘adversary’ and ‘contentious’ for helping coordinate a staff-led 52-point call to action to work with leadership to make IRC an organization dedicated to anti-racism and decoloniality. These actions, along with a culture of retaliation and a year of active DEI involvement, ultimately led to my decision to leave the organization. “
Miliband, the former labor minister, has also faced criticism over the employment of full-time unpaid interns and executive pay raises, causing him to increase his annual salary package. over $ 1,000,000.
He said in a staff forum that his salary remained below the New York average for those in those roles, and said: “I very much hope that we can be a team that recognizes that it is right for my salary to be published, I have it absolutely clear That, but I’m not going to allow conspiracy theories to be sent out that give people a sense of demoralization when our work is so needed.
“So thank you for giving me the time to say that, and I feel so sorry for our colleagues in Ethiopia that their incredible work should have been diverted for 30 seconds for me to do it.”
Lately, similar organizations have also faced a reckoning by their staff. The NGO Médecins Sans Frontières was described as “institutionally racist” by insiders in July, while Amnesty International staff claimed there was a culture of white privilege in the organization in April.
When The Guardian raised the allegations with IRC, it acknowledged that it could do “much better” and said that an outside law firm, WilmerHale, had been engaged to conduct an independent review for a thorough and objective assessment.
“We recognize the serious nature of any allegation, whether reported within the organization or made publicly through the media or on social media,” said a spokesperson.
“As our S100 strategic plan made clear, power inequalities reflect deep historical injustices, and IRC is determined to do better, in some ways much better, to reflect the diversity of the places we work and the people we serve. that we serve.
“This month, we have learned about recently expressed concerns regarding our approach and efforts to promote diversity, equality and inclusion at IRC. To ensure that these concerns are fully considered, the board of directors has created a special committee of four, which is charged with overseeing an in-depth review of these concerns.
“Among other things, WilmerHale will evaluate IRC policies and procedures related to discrimination, harassment and retaliation; how IRC responds and investigates employee complaints about discrimination, harassment, and retaliation; and the role of management in promoting a respectful and inclusive workplace. “
The IRC has invested significantly in DEI over the past year and has set goals to increase leadership diversity, while also hiring a full-time staff member in a role titled Diversity Recruiter. It has also launched an audit of human resources practices to improve internal policies.
Miliband, President and CEO, said, “Like everyone at IRC, I am deeply committed to our mission and to the high standards we set. I welcome the independent review that has been established and look forward to contributing to it. During the course of the review, I will not comment on your progress. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism