Former Amnesty International Hungary employees write about abuse in the workplace

January 06. 2023. – 03:44 PM


Former Amnesty International Hungary employees write about abuse in the workplace
Activists laying in black bags, representing dead refugees at AI's event organised on International Day of Refugees in 2015 – Photo: Tamás Kovács / MTI


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According to former staff members of Amnesty International Hungary (AI HU), the organisation's Hungarian office has a long history of mistreatment and discrimination in the workplace, according to a press release published on Friday, which cites an article by Open Democracy.

Former employees of the Hungarian section of the international organisation say they have experienced systemic workplace abuse and discrimination at AI HU. They write that between the beginning of 2019 and March 2021, five female employees left the organisation for the same reasons. The statement was signed by four former employees, Vera Mérő, Zsófia Nagyné Gere, Zorigt Burtejin and Dr. Ágnes Szalóki.

They write that they chose to go public because they had exhausted all internal forums and options without success. They want to hold the organisation's membership to account and "start a dialogue that can lead to a reduction in inequality in the workplace everywhere".

"Abuse in the workplace is a common phenomenon in Hungary, but it is particularly worrying and problematic when it occurs within the walls of the world's biggest human rights organisation, which focuses on women's equality in the workplace as one of its primary issues."

- they write.

They claim to have experienced serious injustice, abuse and discrimination at their former employer for years, and to have witnessed a pregnant colleague's contract renewal being refused by management because of her pregnancy.

"Being an advocate in Hungary is a tough, demanding, complex and challenging job that stretches people on a daily basis, but the signatories of the statement could no longer take responsibility for representing these causes in the face of the abusive behaviour of the organisation."

They consider it hypocritical that AI HU is currently working on establishing gender equality and conducting workplace trainings on discrimination, while its female employees and gender equality experts are leaving the organisation, citing the treatment they have experienced within the organisation as the reason.

In the article, one of the association's former staff members describes how, after ten years of full-time employment, her former boss wanted to reduce her working hours and pay so that she could fulfil her private role as a mother.

"Another co-worker reported regular psychological harassment, unfounded questioning, gaslighting, as well as humiliating and sexist remarks, often in front of co-workers, normalizing such treatment in the advocacy group's office," the statement reads.

According to the former workers, everyone has the right to work in safety, in fair and just conditions, free of any discrimination.

A summary of the steps they have taken so far is given below:

  • Between the beginning of 2019 and March 2021, five female workers left the organisation for the same reasons;
  • Their concerns have been repeatedly raised with Amnesty International staff, line managers, members of the Board and the President, but their complaints have not been addressed by the Board;
  • the independent expert examination requested by the complainants was not carried out;
  • the former workers then appealed to the International Bureau and Secretariat of Amnesty International, which tried unsuccessfully to influence the Hungarian Presidency;
  • at the beginning of December 2022, the International Secretariat of AI, which had been cooperative until then, suspended the work of the Conflict Management Group (CMAG), which had also been involved in dealing with the Hungarian complaint, and immediately disbanded the group, which had been in operation for decades, while new scandals continue to emerge every year;
  • following the suspension of the group's work, they have not received any official information on the fate of their complaint and the so-called restorative justice process.

After all this, as they write, they have no recourse but to go public. They write that they are committed to defending human rights and want Amnesty to be a fair, equal workplace and a credible rights organisation. They say that an organisation that lacks transparency, equality and security is unfit to do its job as a defender of rights and undermines the work of credible rights defenders.

Amnesty International's response to the accusations

We have reached out to Amnesty International Hungary about their former staff members' claims and here is what they wrote in response:

"Ensuring and promoting gender equality is not only one of Amnesty International Hungary's core strategic objectives, but also one of the organisation's most important core values. We do not tolerate any form of discrimination, harassment and abuse, and we take all complaints and feedback very seriously and investigate them as thoroughly as possible."

Their letter reveals that when four former employees complained in May 2021, the board first launched an internal and then an independent external investigation. "The former staff members complained about regular overtime, the use of communication channels that did not respect the separation of work and private life, occasional disrespectful communication and what they considered to be an opaque and unfair system of remuneration and rewards."

They write that the internal investigation was carried out by three members of the board, one member of the supervisory board and the president of the association, while the external investigation was conducted by two independent experts, a legal expert specialising in labour law and workplace harassment and a psychiatrist, EMDR therapist and HR expert.

"The experts reviewed all relevant documents and records and conducted a total of twelve interviews with board members and employees.

Despite the experts' best efforts, the complainants did not participate in the investigation because they questioned the independence of one of the experts, even though both had clearly stated that there were no circumstances that affected their independence or objectivity."

- the letter states.

"Neither investigation found any evidence that the allegations in the complaint were substantiated. Nevertheless, the external experts have formulated some recommendations for organisational improvements, which have since been implemented or are in the process of being implemented. We take transparency seriously and have made the results of the investigation and a summary of the recommendations available to all on our website."

In addition, all the association's employees have written a letter to the board in support of the organisation and its chief operating officer, agreeing that Amnesty Hungary is a safe place to work, and is based on equality.

- the letter reads.

They go on to write that they sympathise with their former workers and regret that there were situations during their employment that affected them badly or was traumatising for them.

"Despite the two investigations that have taken place and all efforts to reach a satisfactory outcome for the complainants, it has become clear that they are not satisfied with the outcome and, on the advice of Amnesty International's Presidency, we have engaged with them in a restorative approach to the process, which is ongoing. We sincerely hope that this will bring the process to a reassuring conclusion."

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