Review clears former Unicef chair Douglas Alexander of bullying

08 Jan 2021 News

Douglas Alexander, the former chair of Unicef, has been cleared of bullying allegations by an independent review.

Unicef trustees commissioned the independent review by legal firm Morgan Lewis & Bockius after chief executive Sacha Deshmukh left the charity in September, amid claims that the board had not acted on concerns about Alexander’s alleged behaviour.

The review said that four members of Unicef staff including Deshmukh raised concerns about Alexander’s behaviour between 2018 and 2020, but concluded that his conduct did “not amount to bullying”.

Alexander, who was the secretary of state for international development in the last Labour government, left the Unicef board after the allegations were made but has always denied all wrongdoing.

Claims 'have not been substantiated'

The review, a summary of which was published yesterday, took evidence from 30 people including both Deshmukh and Alexander.

It found that, although there were at least two “heated conversations” between the pair during one-on-one meetings, there was “no evidence, apart from Sacha Deshmukh’s account, that indicated there was bullying behaviour by Douglas Alexander towards Sacha Deshmukh”.

The review continued: “The evidence received from others, and the contemporaneous communications, 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.”

The law firm said that, in order to identify whether bullying occurred, it applied the question: “Taking into account all known facts and their full context, was the conduct in question oppressive and unacceptable when assessed objectively?”

Discomfort and upset 

The review found that three other Unicef staff members had “informally raised issues about Douglas Alexander’s conduct” with the board since 2018, also related to one-on-one meetings with him.

Those three employees “clearly did experience discomfort in dealing with Douglas Alexander and found his approach upsetting to them”, it said.

However, it concluded that “while Douglas Alexander’s manner did cause some discomfort and upset to the three employees, we find that, when viewed objectively, it did not amount to bullying.

“The allegations of improper behaviour on the part of Douglas Alexander towards other United Kingdom Committee for Unicef staff members have not been substantiated”.

The review said that “all the events people witnessed, and the contemporaneous communications, were professional in nature and tone”.

Unicef originally instructed the law firm Bates Wells to conduct the review, but switched to a different firm because of an “existing relationship” between Bates Wells and the charity.

Shatish Dasani, the interim chair of trustees at Unicef, said in a statement: “We will be learning from the findings of this independent external review to ensure that we can fulfil our purpose of supporting Unicef’s mission to protect the rights of every child, everywhere.

“The board and management are committed to a safe, inclusive and enabling work environment in support of our work for children.”

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