Bono sorry over bullying claims at charity One

Former employees of a scandal-hit charity founded by U2 singer Bono have warned that more serious revelations of mismanagement and bullying have yet to be made public.

Bono apologised after a UK newspaper revealed former staff of the One charity were suing for physical and psychological distress caused by a former executive, and inaction by management on their complaints.

One’s chief executive, Gayle Smith, released a statement in which she stressed the issues were “historic” and were being addressed through changes to personnel and policy.

However, former staff, including the communications officer who brought the issue to light when he aired criticisms on social media late last year, dismissed Bono’s and Ms Smith’s responses.

Idriss Ali Nassah, who worked in the South Africa office at the centre of the controversy, tweeted that Bono was trying to put all the blame on one former executive when the organisation did nothing to stop her.

Mr Nassah said of the weekend revelations: “I am afraid it’s not even the worst of it.”

Others described the charity’s response as “an image saving exercise” and another said: “The worst is still to come.”

Among the allegations, many of which have been accepted by One, is that staff were subject to bullying, belittling, and unreasonable demands. Some who came from abroad said their status in South Africa was always vulnerable because they were not given work visas.

One says there was uncertainty because from 2010-2015 the charity was “acting as a nonresident taxpayer as it explored making Johannesburg its Africa hub”.

One of the most shocking claims was that a female staff member was encouraged to sleep with a politician so that he would look favourably on the organisation.

One has accepted her evidence that she was subject to sexist and suggestive comments but said it continued to investigate her claim that she was demoted when she shunned the politician’s advances.

Bono said:

We are all deeply sorry. I hate bullying, can’t stand it. The poorest people in the poorest places being bullied by their circumstance is the reason we set up One. So to discover last November that there were serious and multiple allegations of bullying in our office in Johanessburg left me and One board reeling and furious.

“My team and I heard concerns about low morale and poor management in this office but nothing along the lines of what emerged recently. I was assured that those concerns were being dealt with.”

Ms Smith said the charity had acted quickly on hearing the complaints. “The overall evidence from our investigation was sufficient for me to conclude that we needed to own an institutional failure and ensure that our organisation has in place the systems, policies and practices needed so that this never happens again,” she said.

One is a campaigning charity, spending millions lobbying governments and international bodies on tax justice, corruption and debt reduction in developing countries. It’s offshoot, Red, raises money to fight Aids, TB, and malaria.

It does not fundraise from the public but through tie-ins with multinational corporations, philanthropic foundations and wealthy individuals — among them some of Bono’s rock star and movie star friends.

Donors who gave $25,000 or more in the previous year — and who agree to being named — are listed on the website. Among the Irish donors listed are Bono, businessman Denis O’Brien, developer Paddy McKillen, and tech company Salesforce.

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