Independent review clears former Unicef UK chair of bullying claims

An independent review has cleared former Unicef UK chair Douglas Alexander of bullying following allegations around his behaviour towards staff.

Last September Alexander resigned amid allegations that he bullied staff at the charity, including executive director Sacha Deshmukh, who quit as the claims began to emerge.

An independent inquiry was carried out by the law firm Morgan, Lewis and Bockius UK into the allegations, which former MP and Labour government cabinet minister Alexander denies.

This details Deshmukh’s claims that Alexander allegedly bullied him during one-to-one remote meetings during lockdown from March 2020.

“During their scheduled weekly calls and other conversations which took place as needed, there were two heated conversations over a five-month period,” states the review.

“Sacha Deshmukh said he increasingly found Douglas Alexander’s manner and conduct during their conversations challenging, which he felt was very difficult and amounted to bullying. Douglas Alexander denies any bullying or improper conduct on his part.”

But the review found “there is no evidence, apart from Sacha Deshmukh’s account, that indicated there was bullying behaviour”.

It adds that evidence from others with the charity and other communications between Deshmukh and Alexander “suggest there was a warm and professional relationship between the two of them”.

“The evidence of Douglas Alexander’s conduct, viewed objectively, does not amount to bullying. The allegations of improper conduct by Douglas Alexander towards Sacha Deshmukh have not been substantiated,” adds the review.

Also investigated were claims of “improper behaviour” by Alexander toward other charity staff. This relates to complaints between June 2018 and September 2019 raised by three members of staff concerning Alexander’s conduct primarily during one-to-one meetings.

The review details how Alexander’s conduct “was seen to be assertive and curt”. He was seen on one occasion to have a “heated discussion” with a senior member of staff but “nobody witnessed any behaviour which could amount to bullying, states the review.

These allegations have also “not been substantiated” according to the review. However, it does add that the three staffers involved “did experience discomfort in dealing with Douglas Alexander and found his approach upsetting to them”.

In addition, the board’s actions in response to the allegations were found to be “appropriate in difficult and fast moving circumstances” following Deschmukh’s resignation.

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