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Bono antipoverty campaign faces claims of harassment

Issued: 2018-03-10

By Ian Birrell for The Mail on Sunday

Published: 17:00 EST, 10 March 2018 | Updated: 18:36 EST, 10 March 2018


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Workers at a charity founded by U2 singer Bono have been subjected to a 'toxic' culture of bullying and abuse.

Bosses at the ONE charity have covered up the horrific allegations for years, but a major Mail on Sunday investigation has exposed a catalogue of humiliating incidents that has now sparked a multi-million-pound lawsuit.

In the worst case, a married woman says she felt pressured to have sex with an elderly Tanzanian MP.

When she refused, she was demoted to receptionist and had her salary slashed, she claims.

Taken together, the astonishing complaints depict an organisation driven by intimidation and contempt, with staff belittled and undermined, both in front of colleagues and in public.

Workers at U2 singer Bono's ONE charity have been subjected to a horrific culture of bullying and abuse, a Mail on Sunday investigation has revealed

Much of the mistreatment is said to have been at the hands of Sipho Moyo (pictured in purple front row), the former £173,000-a-year Africa executive director of ONE

The charity also failed to pay taxes – despite campaigning against tax evasion – and is alleged to have illegally employed foreign workers on tourist visas.

Bono last night said he was 'deeply sorry' for the situation, which he admitted had 'gone badly wrong'.

He said he was left 'reeling and furious' about the scale of the allegations and vowed to meet victims to apologise in person.

Much of the mistreatment is said to have been at the hands of Sipho Moyo, the former £173,000-a-year Africa executive director of ONE. The complaints include claims that she:

Pictured: Bono at a ONE campaign event in Philadelphia, USA

Moyo, the organisation's most senior African official from 2010 until 2015, hit back last night.

She said she 'vehemently denies' the bullying claims and argues she is being smeared.

She claims that other directors treated her 'like their personal maid' and abused her in public.

ONE, whose board of high-profile figures includes David Cameron and Facebook chief Sheryl Sandberg, now admits there was 'mistreatment and inaction' by former managers.

ONE (founder Bono pictured), whose board of high-profile figures includes David Cameron and Facebook chief Sheryl Sandberg, now admits there was 'mistreatment and inaction'

Bono (pictured) last night said he was 'deeply sorry' for the situation, which he admitted had 'gone badly wrong'

The charity rushed out a public statement nine hours after this newspaper sent it a long list of allegations.

Its current president, Gayle Smith, said she was 'troubled' by the claims, accepting there was 'what I would characterise as bullying and belittling of staff'.

The claims, backed by witness statements and documentary evidence, are hugely embarrassing for an organisation that harnesses celebrities to campaign against corruption, sexism and 'dirty money'.

Sibu had been looking forward to her visit to Tanzania for the launch of an aid initiative.

Yet as so often with her boss Sipho Moyo, it turned into a trial, with repeated accusations of incompetence and a humiliating public dressing-down.

So after the trip, Sibu – then in her mid-30s and working in a senior ONE executive post – was relieved to be heading home to her family on January 16, 2015, as the pair waited in a private lounge at Julius Nyerere Airport.

Then an older Tanzanian MP walked in and started chatting to Moyo in Kiswahili, which Sibu does not speak. Moyo suddenly introduced Sibu – not her real name – in English as her daughter.

'I was shocked when she said that – she hated my guts,' said Sibu. 'She said if he wanted to ask me out then he must run it past her.

'He started to laugh but I was so confused. He was maybe 60 years old. After that he came to me as if to shake my hand but held it for such a long time, making me very uncomfortable.'

Sibu said that after asking why she was in Tanzania, and still clutching her hand, he joked about talking to her 'mother' since he wanted to see her again.

'My face changed, but Moyo said, 'Can you see how beautiful she is?' ' said Sibu. 'She was offering me to this guy.'

She was distressed and kept looking desperately at Moyo – but insists the charity chief just looked back and remarked again on her beauty.

'I was not there to be beautiful but to work,' said Sibu. 'I did not know what to do.

'I was afraid to say anything – and I have never been afraid of a boss before. I was an object. And the person doing this to me was another woman.'

Finally they boarded their plane. Sibu was seated across the aisle from the MP, who spent much of the four-hour flight asking if she was married and saying he had Moyo's blessing.

'I have no doubt I was being bartered, being offered for sex,' she said. 'I know about these things, I am a married woman.'

Sibu kept silent, even crying at one point, but said Moyo just kept joking with the MP. 'It was the worst four hours of my life. When I landed, I left straight away.'

Her story was confirmed by a colleague on the trip. 'She came to me distraught and I asked what happened,' he said. 'She told me, 'My boss is pimping me off with a politician.' '

Yet the ordeal was far from over. Sibu said Moyo warned her during the flight she would be fired if she refused to engage with the MP – and on February 12 this high-flying graduate was demoted to 'office assistant' with her salary slashed.

She walked out and on March 13 won an uncontested arbitration for unfair dismissal.

Yet Sibu said the incident, coming after months of abuse and bullying, destroyed her career, her confidence, her trust and ultimately her marriage.

'I still feel troubled. I used to be so bubbly, my life was rosy. Now I am haunted,' she said. 'I did not know I could be sold.'

Sibu believes Moyo wanted to use her to win influence with the Tanzanian government. 'She wanted me to be her bait. It was so unethical, especially for ONE.'

She says the group's relationship with the MP broke down after she refused to 'entertain' him.

Moyo denied the allegations: 'They are a total fabrication. I said she was my daughter to protect her.'

She added that if there was a demotion, it was through 'due process' and handled by the US office – which is confirmed by emails and the contract.

'The toxic environment was terrible, with staff treated so badly,' said one former manager.

'It was awful for an organisation that claims to fight for social justice, respect and equality. I had never seen anything like this.

'This went on for years. It would never have been allowed to happen in London or Washington but we were just Africans. Their attitude was let them eat themselves.'

When a delegation was sent from London to dampen the disquiet, they told staff to rub a wooden elephant to channel 'negative energies'.

'This was the final insult,' said one man. 'It was really patronising. Did they think we were Africans so some voodoo would help?'

Pictured: Former Prime Minister David Cameron is among Bono's ONE charity backers

The scandal is another blow for the aid sector after revelations of sex parties and staff harassment at other major charities.

Angry ex-staff say their lives were left devastated after working in ONE's 'hostile environment' – and that nothing was done about their claims until after they started complaining publicly on social media in November in the wake of Hollywood sex scandals.

Last week lawyers acting for seven of the former staff, dismayed by inaction over the complaints, launched a legal case demanding £3.6 million compensation for distress.

They sent a letter seeking damages for 'emotional, physical and psychological abuse' under Moyo. Other staff said bullying continued for two years after she left.

Tom Hanks is also a supporter of Bono's ONE charity, exposed for a culture of bullying by the Mail on Sunday

The letter also alleges 'wrongful and malicious mistreatment' at the hands of Moyo, her former deputy director Nachilala Nkombo and Jane Ilori, a former human resources director, who they claim ignored their pleas for help.

Abuse and bullying led more than 20 staff to quit in five years, several saying they remain traumatised and in need of therapy. One British woman was treated for depression and her hair fell out due to stress.

The claims are a blow for Bono, who speaks about 'representing the poorest and most vulnerable people'.

It was a big move for a single mother with a young autistic son, but Amahle was excited to move from the UK to join ONE's management team in Johannesburg in June 2012.

Shortly before Amahle departed, Jamie Drummond, the charity's co-founder, warned her of 'problems' in the South Africa office.

But brimming with confidence, Amahle (not her real name) assumed she would be OK.

Instead she left the charity 18 months later a broken woman. She says she was on medication for depression, struggling to function with hair falling out from stress due to bullying – and feeling dreadfully guilty for the devastating impact on her son.

Some incidents can sound small: being ordered to fetch her boss's bag each day, make tea in a particular way, or serve drinks at parties at Moyo's house.

But the daily drip-drip of abuse, bullying phone calls, dealing with suppliers in tears after run-ins with her bosses, demeaning orders, public dressing-downs and shouting ground her down. 'It crushes you emotionally, mentally and physically,' she said.

Yet she was trapped: ONE was not registered or paying tax in South Africa, so she had to work illegally on a tourist visa. This made it difficult to settle down or find another job.

'It was so hypocritical,' she said. 'But everything we spoke about was hypocritical. We were talking about female empowerment while they were breaking families.'

She is especially angry that nothing was done despite complaints to head offices in London and Washington.

'The abuse was reported over and over again. Not one person within the organisation cared.

'If this had happened in the UK or US, heads would have rolled. But it was like we were meant to be grateful for having jobs. We were just black Africans.'

He set up ONE in 2004 to raise awareness of poverty, backed by big aid charities. It has campaigned to write off Third World debt, has pushed anti-malaria campaigns and raised £360 million to fight HIV and AIDS through its RED offshoot.

Last night, the star said in response to the allegations: '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.'

The Mail on Sunday understands Mr Cameron was warned about the problems before joining the board three months ago, soon after the former employees started raising the matters on Twitter.


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