Save the Children sails towards PR disaster


Damage limitation exercise backfires after internal email is leaked 

2nd December 2014 by Robert Armour 0 Comments

A damage limitation exercise by Save the Children has badly backfired – after an email to staff was leaked on social media.

The humanitarian charity, one of the world’s biggest, is desperately trying to stave off a rebellion from staff and supporters after its US arm awarded former prime minister Tony Blair a Global Legacy Award for preventing poverty in Africa.

But now it has emerged an email, widely leaked on social media, reveals the charity’s chief executive Justin Forsyth, a former Blair employee, was indirectly involved in delivering the award.

And the email suggests the decision to award Blair for his work was taken without wider consultation with staff.

The move has provoked a huge public outcry from within and without the organisation with over 118,000 people signing a petition opposing it on social activism site 38 Degrees. 

In an internal email to the charity’s staff Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of Save the Children International, acknowledges that the uproar over the award “touched a nerve close to our sense of identity.”

The point has been made and more coverage of the issue will not help children - Jasmine Whitbread

She says, “We are all frustrated and disappointed about the situation we are in,” and blames the crisis on Save the Children US, which failed to consult with the rest of the charity’s units.

The American wing of the charity “simply did not anticipate anything sensitive,” Whitbread writes, “in the USA Tony Blair is widely seen very positively for his contribution to international aid.”

Blair is widely criticised for his role in the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, which cost hundreds of thousands of lives and left the country devastated.

Since stepping down as UK prime minister in 2007 Blair has earned millions for global consultancy work.

Justin Forsyth was recruited to Number 10 by Tony Blair where he led efforts on poverty and climate change and was one of the driving forces behind the Make Poverty History campaign.

However, despite the growing opposition to the award, the charity is not considering revoking it.

“Urgently, right now, a team is trying hard to contain the situation and stop things escalating further, detracting from our wider work for children,” states Whitbread in the email.

“The point has been made and more coverage of the issue will not help children.”

A poll run by TFN overwhelmingly supports a move to strip Blair of the award.

In one of our most popular surveys of the year, 92% have so far voted yes to the question “Should Save the Children remove the award from Tony Blair?”

One comment left by Stephen Calder says: “Save the Children doesn't deserve a penny of donations as long as this award stands. It is a disgrace to all the children killed.”

Another responded: “It’s unthinkable for a humanitarian charity to give Blair such an accoldade. What are they thinking?”

And Alan Kirkby wrote: “Can't support this charity while they fawn over Blair.”

Another respondee said he would cancel his standing order to the charity unless the award is revoked.

Save the Children has been contacted for comment.