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Racial discrimination at Christian Aid, say staff

15 October 2020

Concerns were raised last year during a restructuring of the 75-year-old aid agency

Daniel Mukwashi

The appointment of Amanda Khozi Mukwashi (pictured) as chief executive of Christian Aid was described as a welcome catalyst

The appointment of Amanda Khozi Mukwashi (pictured) as chief executive of Christian Aid was described as a welcome catalyst

FOUR out of five staff at Christian Aid who were questioned for an internal inquiry have experienced or witnessed racial discrimination or micro-aggressions while working for the charity.

The independent inquiry, conducted by Xtend (UK) Ltd, was commissioned by Christian Aid after concerns about race and diversity were raised last year during a restructuring of the 75-year-old aid agency (News, 10 December 2019). Overall, the charity has 463 full- and part-time staff in the UK, and 540 based overseas.

Having spoken to more than 80 staff members — almost all of them Britain-based — as well as directors and board members, Xtend found that 69 per cent of respondents considered there to be discrimination in the organisation in Britain (11 per cent thought that there was no discrimination).

Half the respondents — 51 per cent — had experienced discrimination or micro-aggressions; a further 29 per cent had witnessed such incidents.

Altogether, 83 per cent of respondents said that they were aware of longstanding issues of race inequality and justice, and felt that these had not been addressed. Even more — 89 per cent — attributed this to the charity’s policy of “colour-blindness”, which disguised unconscious bias.

Xtend was critical of Christian Aid’s data collection: 40 per cent of staff had not submitted information about their ethnicity, which meant that it was impossible to interrogate the charity’s recruitment policies or calculate the proportion of BAME and non-BAME employees. It stated: “The organisation will be unable to put in place strategies to remedy the issues as identified by staff without having this data accurately recorded and maintained, and therefore it cannot rule out that discriminatory practices might be occurring.”

More than two-thirds of respondents (69 per cent) laid the blame on the charity’s leadership, which showed no visibility in engaging with race, equality, and justice in Britain. More than half (57 per cent) regarded the leadership team as a “barrier to change”.

BAME representation among the leadership was less of a concern: 29 per cent wanted greater diversity. The appointment of Amanda Khozi Mukwashi, one of the few black CEOs in the church and charity field, was described as a welcome catalyst.

In response to the report’s findings, Christian Aid is initiating a three-year race-and-diversity plan of action. This will include the recruitment of a race-and-diversity specialist in the leadership team; increased oversight of race and diversity in the board; revised policies and behavioural goals; the creation of safe spaces for dialogue; and regular training throughout the organisation.

“The report makes for painful reading,” Ms Mukwashi said. She thanked staff for speaking out. “Christian Aid’s mission is rooted in the belief that every human being is made in the image of God and has innate dignity. And yet for these colleagues, it has not felt that way.

“The report has shown us that we cannot rely on our long history of fighting injustice elsewhere and ignore the longstanding issues of racial injustice that have made Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic staff feel less valued, for far too many years, in our own organisation. We must now do better.”

Christian Aid is chaired by the Rt Revd Lord Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury. He says in the report’s foreword: “We have fallen short of the standards that we set for ourselves: standards that we must embody in order to realise our vision. The report shines a light on the reality of the human cost of racial inequality. The effects of this inequality are pervasive in our society, and we must acknowledge with penitence that they are also pervasive in our organisation. . .

“We must change our habits and assumptions so that we can become a truly anti-racist organisation. Christian Aid can and must do this.”

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