More than 100 campaigners have demanded “tangible and meaningful action” from ActionAid UK (AAUK) in response to allegations about racism at the charity.
In an open letter published on Wednesday morning, organised by the anti-racism network CharitySoWhite, people of colour working in the international development sector called on AAUK to prioritise the “voice, leadership, and perspectives” of people directly affected by racism in its response to the scandal.
Senior staff at AAUK have pledged reforms at the charity, after an internal review last year identified “systemic racism”.
The campaigners, who pledged solidarity with all those impacted by racism in the aid sector, said that they would like to see “a clear understanding of who within AAUK’s leadership will be held accountable for the racism that appears to be endemic in the organisation, and how this accountability will manifest in tangible and meaningful action”.
The letter also asks “for the voice, leadership, and perspectives of people of colour affected by racism in AAUK to be prominently centred in future reporting and response to the systemic racism that has taken place within the organisation”.
Campaigners said that such voices “have been notably lacking in the media coverage of these events thus far”.
Signatories to the letter, who signed in a personal capacity, include Lena Bheeroo, engagement and equity manager at the development umbrella body Bond, and Daphne Jayasinghe, chief policy advisor at the International Rescue Committee.
An independent race audit conducted at AAUK last year found that some Black and ethnic minority staff suffered racism and felt “less valued [and] less supported” than their white colleagues, according to documents first reported by Civil Society News.
The charity’s chief executive, Frances Longley, apologised to staff at the time and acknowledged that some employees had “suffered pain and harm”. AAUK says it will implement all the recommendations made in the audit.
AAUK chair leaving
The letter notes that Srabani Sen, chair of trustees at AAUK, plans to step from the role in March, and says: “We truly hope that the issues of institutional racism at the charity will not take a back seat until a new chair is appointed and that the board steps up to hold the senior leadership of AAUK accountable.”
Sen is leaving her positions at both AAUK and children’s charity The Winch. In a message posted on LinkedIn a week ago, Sen said: “I will miss both The Winch and AAUK, but I will be leaving both organisations in the capable hands of two brilliant boards with outstanding chief executives and talented staff teams.
“My heart will always be with these organisations, and I will continue to support them in whatever way I can.”
The open letter added: “We demand collective responsibility from senior leadership who enable a culture that tolerates racism.
“Accountability mechanisms, led by people of colour, must also be put in place so that those experiencing discrimination are protected and can report their concerns in a way that does not cause them further harm.”
AAUK: 'We are actively listening to colleagues'
A spokesperson for AAUK said: “We recognise that some staff do not accept the findings of the audit report and have been disappointed by our presentation of its findings and recommendations internally. We are sorry for any hurt that we may have caused. We are actively listening to colleagues and will continue to seek ways to address concerns raised.
“The board remains wholly committed to our anti-racist work. AAUK’s senior leadership team recognise that, whilst they remain accountable for the work that needs to be done, the design and leadership of the work itself must include people of colour with lived experience while also recognising that systemic change requires everyone to work hard to understand the consequences of our decisions, statements, and actions each day.
“AAUK’s senior leadership team has pledged to work with all colleagues, in particular the BAME group, to continue these difficult conversations and move forward in our shared goal of becoming an anti-racist organisation.”