Save the Children review reveals extent of sexual harassment of staff

09 Oct 2018 News

Some 28 per cent of Save the Children’s staff say they have experienced discrimination or harassment in the last three years, a review has found.

Save the Children appointed Suzanne Shale, an ethics expert, to conduct an independent review of its working culture following criticism about its handling of separate allegations against its former chief executive, Justin Forsyth, and its former policy director Brendan Cox in 2015.

A separate regulatory inquiry is being carried out by the Charity Commission. 

Just over two thirds of the charity’s staff responded to the survey, and of those, 28 per cent had experienced some level of discrimination or harassment. 

The review said the levels were comparable to public sector organisations and other charities. 

It said there were “a small number of incidents of gender harassment and unwanted sexual attention”. This included comments about pregnancy and childcare, appearances, sexual innuendo, intrusive questioning and “unwelcome touching in areas such as the waist”. 

Types of inappropriate behaviour

The review said that the most common type of poor behaviour was “people having their opinions ignored particularly when, as technical experts, they were required to provide them; and on grounds of difference, for example gender, ethnicity or cultural background, age and social class.”

Other negative acts included being humiliated or ridiculed, being the target of “spontaneous anger”, criticisms of work and suggestions that people should quit their jobs. 

There were also “boundary violations” including “breaches in confidentiality” and confusion about “personal and professional boundaries”. 

The review said staff welcomed the zero tolerance approach which had been “clearly signalled by the chief executive” but that there was “uncertainty” about what this meant in practice. 

Trustees need to be more diverse 

The review found that the board should have more “people management data” to enable them to “monitor progress”. 

It also said that there should be “greater ethnic and social diversity” on the board. 

The review praised the current leadership’s commitment to transparency and openness and said it was “great willingness to learn from the past and eagerness to move forward without delay”.


The review made five main recommendations, which are: 

  1. Work collaboratively with staff to develop an integrated strategy in response to this report 
  2. Develop a comprehensive plan to reduce “workforce incivility” 
  3. Make the workforce and trustee board more ethnically and socially diverse 
  4. Review whistleblowing arrangements 
  5. Ensure the HR department has enough resources

Kevin Watkins, chief executive of Save the Children, accepted the findings from report, apologised for failings and promised action. 

He said: “Our brilliant, passionate, hard-working staff are committed to our mission of bringing hope to some of the world’s most vulnerable children. They have a right to be protected against harassment of any kind’

“There have been failures in our organisational culture and processes, including widely reported historic cases in which there were abuses of power and authority. To the women affected, I unreservedly and unconditionally apologise on behalf of Save the Children. It must never happen again.”


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