Amnesty International Hungary has recently been accused of systemic gender-based discrimination and a culture of misogyny at its offices. The accusations include workplace abuse and inequal treatment of female employees. According to reports, five former staff members of Amnesty International in Hungary resigned between early 2019 and March 2021, citing gaslighting and manipulation.
On 6 January, four of the five women went public with their stories and told Open Democracy that when they had expressed concerns about the way they were being treated at their workplace, the organisation failed to take action. The women said they decided to turn to the public also in order to facilitate meaningful conversation about the ill treatment of women at workplaces. The former AI workers told Open Democracy in video calls that they had signalled their concerns multiple times to the leadership of Amnesty International Hungary, but their complaints fell on deaf ears, they received no support and no independent investigation was ordered to look into their claims.
The four former female employees of Amnesty International expressed their disappointment with the fact that they were faced with gender-based discrimination at an organisations that declares the pursuit of gender equality as being one of its main goals. The former staff of Amnesty International Hungary also said it is hypocritical that the office holds trainings and workshops on gender equality for the workers of other employers, but within its own branches fails to adhere to the principles and practices it teaches.
One of the ex-AI workers claims her contract was not extended because she was pregnant,
a reason her supervisors explicitly stated. Another former employee was pressured into giving up breastfeeding as it allegedly restricted her ability to work on overnight business trips. All of the women told Open Democracy about regular psychological and verbal abuse directed against female employees of AI Hungary.
In response to the accusations, Amnesty International Hungary declared that it had conducted two internal investigations into the complaints of its employees. The investigations found no evidence backing up the accusations. AI Hungary also claimed in its statement that the accusers had refused to cooperate with the investigation, as they questioned the independence of the investigators. In the statement published on Amnesty International’s website, the office maintains that the investigators were independent. Despite the lack of evidence of abuse, Amnesty International took further steps to make its work environment more inclusive.
Dr Andrea Sebestyén, a lawyer specializing in workplace abuse who was one of the members of the investigative team, was described on Amnesty International’s website in 2015 as ‘our most dedicated supporter’ as she has been volunteering for the organisation and has been affiliated with the Hungarian Amnesty International office since 2014.
While this scandal has only just hit the Hungarian branch of Amnesty International, in 2018 the organisation’s Paris and Geneva offices also came under public scrutiny after two of its staff members committed suicide in the same year. One of the employees wrote on his suicide note that the pressure he experienced at work contributed to his decision to take his life. The report released after the investigation into the 2018 suicides established workplace abuse, issues with the workload, gender-based discrimination and various forms of injustices. Most recently, in 2022, Amnesty International UK was accused of institutional racism. An independent inquiry found that AI UK ‘exhibits institutional racism’ and previously ‘failed to properly embed equality, inclusion and anti-racism’ throughout the organisation. As a result of the scandal, the chair, vice chair and the chair of the HR sub-committee all left their jobs at Amnesty International UK.
The accusations made against Amnesty International repeatedly over the past years point towards an institutional failure to live up to the standards the organisation advocates for. It is becoming increasingly clear that Amnesty International as a whole preaches water while drinking wine. The systemic, Europe-wide human resources abuses at Amnesty International workplaces throw into doubt whether AI is really the organisation one should listen to about how a more just, inclusive and fair world should be built.