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Toxic Work Environment at Amnesty International

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An organization that is about human rights seemingly has discriminatory and harmful practices.

KonTerra Group, a Washington, D.C.-based group completed a review of Amnesty International with psychologists, regarding the well-being of employees, and found appalling data:

“Given Amnesty’s status and mission to protect and promote human rights the number of accounts the assessment team received of ‘bullying’,’racism’, and ‘sexism’ is disconcerting,” the review of the human rights organization’s management practices said.


Women, people of color, and LGBTQ employee complaints were rampant. The survey was completed by 475 staff members, 70% of the workforce.

Of those, 19% had been working at Amnesty for less than a year. 81% had been working with Amnesty for more than one year, and 32% more than five years. 71% of respondents were women.

The organization’s International Secretariat’s staff work in the US and all over the globe, but they are separate from Amnesty International USA.

DiversityInc reached out to KonTerra Group for a statement, but they declined, saying they don’t comment to the media on work they do for clients.

Amnesty International’s management is mostly male.

Many said they were at “significant risk of experiencing secondary stress or vicarious trauma,” and cited bullying, lack of trust, public humiliation, and toxic and adversarial environments.

Employee perceptions were also that diverse staff around the globe that didn’t necessarily speak English were excluded from well-being practices.

The report referred to the “‘martyrdom culture,’ which encourages people to sacrifice their own well-being because of the critical importance of the work.'”

It inevitably results in burn out. Other studies have corroborated this. Two employees within the last year killed themselves, prompting the review.

An Urban Institute report found that most nonprofits devalue benefits and salaries long before changing their operations. “There is this feeling that the mission is so important that nothing should get in the way of it,” Elizabeth Boris, one of the Urban Institute report’s authors, said.

In addition to emotional safety negligence, Amnesty employees contend with death threats and feel they don’t have resources to put sufficient security measures in place to protect themselves.

Almost three quarters of respondents said management didn’t place their well-being as a priority or they weren’t sure if it was.

The review highlighted the importance of EQ, improved relational skills, professional behavior and tone, and conflict management skills. They also encouraged management to foster a sense of safety and trust.

Culture change recommendations included countering a “culture of criticism and blame” with a development culture, doing away with divisive dynamics, allowing mutual feedback, improving the grievance process, and strengthening assessment and recruitment practices.

The Amnesty report said efforts to support employees were ad hoc and piecemeal.

Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty’s secretary general, said the review was “a difficult and profoundly troubling read”. In a statement, he said he would bring forward a reform plan by the end of March.

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