A Channel 4 News report has revealed that current and former employees of the Equality and Human Rights Commission have accused the Commission’s leadership and the Commission’s chair Baroness Kishwer Falkner of fostering a ‘toxic’ environment of bullying, harassment and discrimination.
They also accused the Commission’s leadership, of working with the Government to undermine trans rights and claimed that the Commission was acting as a “puppet on strings” for the Government’s culture war agenda.
This comes after trans rights advocacy group Translucent revealed to Vice News journalist Ben Hunte that staff have been quitting the Commission and that senior members of the Commissions leadership had met with anti-trans hate groups.
Channel 4 News spoke to over 20 current and former EHRC staffers who painted a “disturbing picture” of the Commission.
One staffer said: “It was heartbreaking, I couldn’t be complicit in the erosion of what the organization is supposed to be”
Another told Channel 4 News: “Unacceptable behaviour from the chairwoman is becoming normalised…Staff [are] not treated with courtesy and respect/bullying…”
Channel 4 News were also told: “The crux of the issue is we’ve been severely politically compromised at the very top of the organisation. We are effectively puppets on strings”
According to a staff document Channel 4 News were given access to, the Commission had succumbed to a culture of bullying.
“We are deeply concerned abut an increase in bullying, harassment and discrimination, which is not in line with who we are as an organisation” the document explained.
“There is a lack of psychological safety i.e. the fear of who will be attacked next. The board, including the chairwoman, are not functioning in line with good Governance…Unacceptable behaviour from the chairwoman is becoming normalised…Staff [are] not treated with courtesy and respect/bullying…
“Discriminatory comments/discussions have been openly had with Officers present: e.g. November Board meeting on the Equality Act.”
The meeting the staff document refers to took place the day after trans woman Emma Laslett had appeared on a all-woman final of BBC Radio 4’s Brains of Britain quiz show. Channel 4 News were told that Baroness Falkner referred to Laslett as: “A bloke in lipstick.”
Over twenty EHRC staff members were present.
“I mean if that’s true…on the one hand (it’s) not the worst comment i’ve ever received. But on the other, it’s disgusting and…disheartening” Laslett told Channel 4 News.
“If your job is to protect people from discrimination and, while on duty and in front of everybody else who is doing that, you are peddling that kind of discrimination, then you’re not fit for the job and honestly shouldn’t be doing it anymore.”
The EHRC’s independence from the government was also brought into question in the report. One staffer told Channel 4 News that: “The crux of the issue is we’ve been severally politically compromised at the very top of the organisation.
“We are effectively puppets on strings.”
In February Minister for women and equalities Kemi Badenoch wrote to the EHRC seeking their advice on a potential amendment to the Equality Act defining sex as purely based on a person’s birth sex. Baroness Falkner responded with a letter recommending that the move be seriously considered. This was met with widespread condemnation by the UK trans community, Human rights charities and many others as this move would have essentially gutted trans peoples protections in regards to accessing single sex spaces.
“It feels like a sort of mask off moment” another staffer told Channel 4 News.
“There’s no hiding from the fact that this is not an impartial or objective approach to the issue of trans rights. This is very clearly an attempt to undermine their rights. It’s the exact opposite of the national human rights body should be doing.”
The report noted the long standing issue of EHRC staff quitting the Commission in protest of the leadership’s moves against trans rights, first reported by Vice New’s Ben Hunte in February last year.
According to a complaint made by staff, 25% of the EHRC’s staff have quit the commission. This included 40% of the Commissions LGBT staff. In direct response to Baroness Falkner’s letter to Kemi Badenoch, seven senior figures have quit the Commission, including one commissioner.
According to another anonymous staff, the Commission is being used by government ministers to help the government achieve their ‘culture war’ political goals.
“I think that’s incredibly dangerous” the staffer told Channel 4 News.
“…because the EHRC is supposed to be the independent watchdog on equality and human rights. And the sad, heartbreaking thing about that is that the most vulnerable people, such as trans people, end up being on the frontline of that game. And their lives are made worse and they end up being worried and scared about what’s going on.”
Channel 4 learned that an investigation into these accusations lead by an independent Kings Counsel had begun.
In response to the report Caroline Nokes MP, the chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, expressed concern over the allegations.
“Well it is the job of the commission to act impartially.” Nokes told Channel 4 News.
“It’s the job of the Commission to uphold everybody’s rights, to protect all of those who have identified characteristics which are protected under the law.
“They cannot discriminate in favour of one group against another and it’s important that we get to the bottom of these allegations, that we look at an organisation that has a very high staff turn over and that those allegations of bullying, of harassment, of discrimination, are interrogated very closely indeed.”
This comes after the UN’s independent expert on sexuality and gender identity, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, blasted the EHRC and accused them of attempting to undermine trans rights and noting that the EHRC’s moves on trans rights were “unbecoming” of a national human rights watchdog.
The EHRC, Baroness Falkner and EHRC Chief Executive Marcial Boo all released statements talking down and avoiding the accusations by referring to the ongoing KC lead investigation as reasons why they could not comment more.
Sources claiming to be close to Falkner claimed to the Daily Mail that these accusations are the result of a “witch hunt” and referred to the current and former EHRC staffers making these accusations as “the trans lobby”.
You can watch the Channel 4 New report here: