Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

Europe

British Council criticized for handling of discrimination complaints in Kenya

Press play to listen to this article

LONDON — A British Council official dismissed allegations of racial discrimination and harassment at the organization’s Kenya branch as “pure evil” during a call with company staff.

The senior regional boss said workers who approached the Kenyan government with claims of mistreatment had tried to “bring down” an organization that has been a “blessing” to millions of people, according to audio passed to POLITICO. 

Speaking to staff after the organization had launched an investigation into the claims, the official said the letter was “an attack on the British Council,” adding: “I say this, and I say this clearly out there: this is evil, pure evil and nothing but evil.” 

The British Council has long been regarded as a key pillar of Britain’s soft power. Queen Elizabeth II, who celebrated her platinum jubilee this weekend, is its patron. Part-funded by London’s Foreign Office, the organization runs English language courses and hosts events designed to advance the U.K.’s reputation abroad. 

But since 2016, the British Council has launched two separate investigations into complaints about staff treatment in Kenya.

The first probe was triggered after a letter to the British Council’s global HR director claiming to be from 20 serving staff accused one senior official of overseeing a “reign of terror perpetrated with an unprecedented culture of impunity.” 

Staff urged bosses to “interrogate the circumstances surrounding the huge staff turnover” at the British Council’s Kenya office which they alleged was a “direct result” of the official. 

In one incident, the official had referred to a “chimpanzee’s party” in an email about untidy meeting rooms, which sparked a backlash from workers. He later apologized for “unintentionally” causing offense and insisted the phrase was commonly used to refer to a “messy kitchen or other room.”

Internal investigators deemed the comment culturally insensitive but not racist. The British Council confirmed the report found no racism but there were employee relations and operational issues that needed to be addressed.

The second investigation, led by an external investigator, considered allegations from one of the previous complainants and concluded in February. The British Council refused to share the external investigator’s conclusions with the former staff member who lodged the complaints. The man, who worked as a program manager, was told he couldn’t receive the report as he no longer works for the organization.

The British Council did write to the man setting out the “management findings and decisions regarding the complaints,” but made no direct reference to the external investigator or their report. The external investigator and Buckingham Palace did not respond to a request for comment.

Building pressure

The program manager’s allegations previously featured as one of seven case studies in a letter sent to senior British Council executives and the Kenyan government in July 2021.

“We write to express our grave concern on systemic discrimination and harassment experienced by Kenyans working at the British Council in Kenya, which we believe needs to be urgently addressed,” the letter began.

The anonymous correspondence, reported by the Guardian and seen by POLITICO, was organized by a group of current and former British Council staff who refer to themselves as Racial Injustice Kenya (RIK).

The British Council pledged to probe the allegations, but the RIK group boycotted the investigation in protest at its scope and fears over its independence. An email setting out the group’s position highlighted the regional boss’ “recent sentiments and tone” in the wake of the call branding the allegations “evil.”

While other members of the RIK group refused to engage, the program manager did participate in an investigation into his claims of unfair treatment, harassment and discrimination. His were the only complaints considered by the external investigator following the boycott.

The man claimed he had been placed at risk of redundancy in February 2019 and remained under that threat until he took voluntary redundancy more than two years later. 

Three former colleagues described incidents in which the program manager was allegedly “dressed down,” “lambasted,” spoken to “very harshly” or was “shut down continuously” by a senior official. He was eventually hospitalized with depression and left the British Council in early April 2021.

The external investigator filed their report in mid-November 2021. But because the man had left the organization, British Council lawyers said the complainant would not receive a copy, arguing the investigation had been set up only to help the company “review compliance with its policies.”

In a letter on February 7, the British Council’s lawyers told the man that “management has established” there was no discrimination, systemic discrimination or racial discrimination against him. Their letter made no explicit reference to the report from the external investigator.

In a public statement, the British Council said an “investigative process” into alleged discriminatory practices at the British Council office in Kenya “has concluded that there was no evidence of racial discrimination, bullying or harassment as complaints raised against staff members could not be substantiated.” 

The organization said its Kenya branch should improve its process for handling complaints, how it manages staff performance and redundancy processes. It is not clear whether the “investigative process” refers to the external investigator’s report or an internal review of their findings.

When approached for comment regarding the allegations in this article, the British Council referred POLITICO to its public statement, which concluded: “The British Council takes seriously any allegation, however remote, of discrimination, racism, bullying and harassment, and proactively investigates them thoroughly and fairly.”

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You May Also Like

Energy

Press play to listen to this article WASHINGTON — The imprisonment of a prominent Vietnamese environmental activist has forced U.S. and EU climate negotiators...

Europe

ELMAU, Germany — The world’s wealthiest democracies on Sunday announced a $600 billion global infrastructure initiative to counter China’s push to exert political and...

Europe

LONDON —  Attempting to settle the conflict in Ukraine now would only cause “enduring instability,” Boris Johnson warned Emmanuel Macron on Sunday. Speaking at...

Europe

FRANKFURT — Central banks around the world must act decisively to rein in inflation and avoid the global economy getting slammed by high prices...

Foreign Policy

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid lashed out at EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell over a visit to Tehran aimed at reviving negotiations over...

Europe

The death toll during a migrant incursion into the Spanish enclave of Melilla has risen to 23, Moroccan authorities said. About 2,000 people tried...

Europe

ELMAU, Germany — The G7 economic powers will ban imports of Russian gold in a further tightening of the stranglehold Western nations have sought to...

Energy

Press play to listen to this article It’s difficult to cajole developing countries to abandon coal while reopening your own coal-fired power plants. That’s...