I wrote to you last week to express the Board’s regret at the accounts of racism shared by former and current staff members, and our continued commitment to improve, to be the effectively anti-racist organisation and movement that our mission and values demand of us.
As I said last week, the Boards have recognised that AIUK has not been an effectively anti-racist organisation to date, that this is unacceptable, and that this needs to and will change. We said this in our February statement, and we remain wholly committed to the actions which that statement set out.
The Section Board have spent a great amount of time considering what more we feel needs to be done, in light of what we have now read in the Guardian article and on social media. One of the most prevalent sentiments that we have seen expressed is that many feel tired of words alone. It was in that spirit that we felt it would be the right thing first to have actions in place, agreed with the Board of the Charitable Trust (a separate, independent Board). Those actions themselves have developed over the past few weeks with changing circumstances (and are indeed continuing to develop). That is why we have taken the time we have to communicate with you.
My update to you last week therefore shared the first of these agreed actions, namely the appointment of a new interim CEO, as well as planned initial changes to the make-up of SMT to include a dedicated Director of People and Culture.
I am reaching out again today because we had to respond quickly yesterday to a request from the media to comment on two Emergency Resolutions that have been submitted to the AGM. These resolutions have not yet been approved by the AGM’s Standing Orders Committee (a committee elected by members and independent from the Board) and so we had not expected to see them appear in the public domain at this point. I am sorry that this news may have reached you before I was able to write to you directly, with further updates on actions agreed by the Section Board.
Firstly, I wanted to clarify in more detail the update I shared with you last week, in relation to the composition of the Section Board and its leadership. In the week following the Guardian article Sharon Lovell and I (as Section Board Vice Chair and Chair respectively) both offered to step aside immediately, to create space for fresh leadership. Separately, Basia Giezek and Hugh Sandeman have both recently resigned from the Section Board: Basia for personal reasons; Hugh, having already decided not to stand for re-election this year, stepping aside early. The election process for selecting new elected members of the Section Board is also currently underway, which will refresh the composition of the Board. The Board will also seek to use of its powers to make appointments of additional directors with anti-racism, change management, organisational design and workplace culture experience and expertise. The Board is currently working with the Nominations Committee to find people with that experience and expertise to appoint to the Board. This process will take a few months. We aim to have additional directors in place for appointment at the September meeting when the other newly elected directors join the Board as part of the Board’s refresh.
However, it is critical that whilst this change occurs, there is no gap in the Section Board’s ability to exercise its full range of governance responsibilities that are necessary to the functioning of AIUK. As such, the Section Board decided that I should continue to act as Chair until September with Sen Raj taking over the Vice Chair role to provide an immediate refresh to Board leadership. Sharon Lovell and I both plan to step down from the Board entirely in September. The newly constituted Section Board will have refreshed membership in September and then can select a Chair and Vice Chair for the coming years.
Secondly, the Section Board has also decided that there needs to be an independent investigation, looking at both the question of whether individual grievance cases that have cited racial discrimination were properly investigated and determined, but also more broadly across the range of policies, procedures and working practices in AIUK. This investigation will allow us to understand what has (and has not) occurred in AIUK over recent years, the extent to which policies and procedures have (or have not) enabled a positive and respectful working environment, the extent to which (or not) there may have been breaches in the proper adherence to those policies or procedures by management or any other leadership (whether intentional or not), the extent to which governance were receiving accurate information about the working culture and other relevant information so that they could properly discharge their duties of direction and oversight on relation to employment/anti-discrimination issues and the extent to which governance, having received the information that they did receive, properly discharged their duties.
I am pleased that the new Interim CEO has supported the proposal for such an investigation, and I have welcomed the emphasis that he has recommended on the need for independence in the organisation conducting the investigation, the transparency about its terms of reference, and a commitment on the part of the Section Board to the publication of the investigation’s findings and recommendations. As such, an independent law firm will be commissioned by the Section Board to conduct the investigation and clear terms of reference are being prepared. While the Section Board’s consideration of an investigation preceded the recent Emergency Resolutions that call for an independent review, we welcome the reminder from members that such a review / investigation can have value in providing a clear and robust picture of what has taken place and, critically, key lessons to move forward and improve. I also welcome the commitment of the Interim CEO and the SMT that, while the investigation is ongoing, the existing work around ED&I and anti-racism should continue, but that this work will be strengthened and developed further in the light of the investigation’s findings as appropriate. The Section Board has also communicated with the Trust Board to see if they would like to jointly commission the investigation, so that it is a joint endeavour by both Boards.
I will continue to update you as further actions are developed and agreed, and I again thank you for your patience and fortitude at a difficult time for our movement. As I mentioned last week, the Section Board are also holding multiple briefing and discussion sessions over the next few weeks to explain our response and our actions, and I look forward to seeing and talking to you in those sessions if you are able to join us.
In solidarity and with best wishes,
Chair, Amnesty International UK Section