Save the Children’s handling of harassment complaints to be investigated

Save the Children’s handling of allegations of misconduct and harassment against its staff is to be investigated by the Charity Commission.

The regulator has announced it has opened a statutory enquiry into the charity to probe the way it handled, reported and responded to the “serious allegations” against senior staff members in 2012 and 2015.

The charity has been under public scrutiny this year after it emerged that concerns had been raised about inappropriate comments made by former chief executive Justin Forsyth.

Two trustees carried out two separate investigations into complaints made by three female employees that resulted in an “unreserved apology” from Forsyth, according to a Save the Children statement in February.

Last month Save the Children made public details of two reviews of behaviour and culture at the charity, after leaked extracts were published by the BBC.

This found failures in the way the complaints had been handed and was criticial of the management culture at the time, finding “evidence of uncomfortable and/or unsafe behavior towards colleagues at Save the Children UK”.

The charity also established an independent review in February, led by organisational ethics expert Dr Suzanne Shale”, into its workplace culture and met with the Commission at the time, as well as over 2015/16, to discuss allegations of harassment and misconduct.

But the regulator said that it has decided to open a formal investigation following its recent talks with the charity and after receiving additional information from an anonymous source about further allegation against senior staff members.

The Charity Commission said that it remains concerned about whether the charity “adequately reported the full extent and nature” of the allegations in 2015/16 and how the charity handled complaints at the time.

In addition, the regulator has said it is concerned about the “charity’s decision making since February 2018 on its public position regarding these allegations”.

The statutory inquiry will investigate whether trustees have:

• adequately discharged their duties in handling the allegations at the time, and in fulfilling their duty of care towards their employees
• ensured the charity has implemented measures about operating to appropriate standards of work place conduct and staff safeguarding - including testing staffing misconduct allegations, complaints or incidents received by the charity since 1 January 2016
• made decisions around public handling and reputation management on the historic allegations appropriately
• disclosed fully, frankly and accurately, serious incidents relating to staffing matters to the Commission

Charity Commission director of investigations and enforcement Michelle Russell said: “This inquiry centres specifically on how the charity handled complaints in 2012 and 2015 about senior members of staff, and how the charity responded to and managed public and media scrutiny of those events in 2018.

“Opening a formal investigation does not necessarily mean that we have concluded that there has been wrongdoing by the trustees of The Save the Children Fund. However, we do have questions that must be answered, and we need to hold the charity formally accountable for providing them in a clear and timely manner.”

Save the Children has issued a statement saying it will co-operate fully with the regulator’s investigation.

“It is critical that Save The Children works with the Charity Commission to examine whether mistakes were made in the past,” said the charity’s board of trustees chair Peter Bennett-Jones.

“If mistakes were made they will be fully acknowledged and properly addressed. We are committed to working with the Charity Commission to establish a truthful and accurate account of events and the charity’s response. If mistakes were made, we will act swiftly and decisively to address them.”

He added: “Save the Children UK has a policy of zero tolerance towards any form of bullying or harassment.”

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