The lack of third-party accountability has created a culture of collusion
Two events took place last week which were both significant for the impact they will have in a change of attitude to third-party accountability.
Oxfam has been embroiled in a sex scandal. It follows intense criticism over its handling of sex allegations, including the use of prostitutes by workers in Haiti, in 2011. Heads have rolled and a government enquiry has been launched. The second event is the prosecution of Miramax, Harvey Weinstein’s company, and also his brother Robert, by New York State. Both organisations are being held responsible for the conduct of their employees and failing to provide a safe and secure workplace with affective follow-up on allegations. Miramax is accused of failing employees by:
- “Not investigating complaints or treating them confidentially. One assistant says she saw her email detailing Mr Weinstein’s misconduct allegations had been forwarded directly to him
- Creating a contract for Mr Weinstein which allegedly contained the proviso that mistreatment claims would result in a financial penalty, rather than be prohibited. This “effectively monetised” sexual harassment.”
End the culture of “open secrets”
Third party accountability is finally starting to mean something, with serious repercussions for organisations and their leaders. They are being held legally liable. But it’s also about undoing a culture of collusion and enablement. This includes the frequently talked about the culture of “open secrets.” These secrets have allowed this behaviour to carry on unchallenged for literally decades, in many organisations across all sectors.
Sophie Stevens, a UK-based specialist in international development, confirmed her experience of this culture in post conflict and humanitarian aid zones: “I hate to say it, but no one who’s worked in/been to a humanitarian context was surprised by the Oxfam story from Haiti. Aid workers using prostitutes (and excessive drinking/other unhealthy coping strategies) is completely common across disaster and conflict zones worldwide. I hope this story will shine a wider light on how exploitative and grim this phenomenon is, but it’s by no means a problem unique to Oxfam.”
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This is a wake-up call
For organisations large and small this is a wake-up call to clean up their acts. They need to have a zero tolerance policy in place against sexual harassment. This includes effective procedures in place for investigating any allegations with regard to the behaviour of their staff, whether internally or externally. If not, they could find themselves legally liable. The idea of the open secret culture is being blown apart.
The Weinstein case specifically cites the employment of female staff as: “wing women” to “accompany [Mr Weinstein] to events and facilitate [his] sexual conquests.” Theoretically this could cover those involved in the Presidents Club scandal, including any agency supplying hostesses or even the venue management.
Taking steps towards third-party accountability is overdue and eventually widespread legal deterrents could be put in place. For managers, leaders and HR professionals failing to take appropriate and effective action will have consequences. For individuals it’s important to understand that turning the other cheek or indulging poor behaviour could get you into hot water. It’s already started.