The chair of Unicef UK, Douglas Alexander, has resigned after being accused of bullying behaviour towards staff.
One of the charity’s vice-chairs, Caroline Underwood, also announced she had stepped down, a day after the executive director, Sacha Deshmukh, resigned amid the bullying allegations.
Alexander, a former Scottish Labour politician, denied the claims and said they had come “as a complete surprise”.
The charity said a full internal review into the bullying complaints had been launched by the board of trustees, adding it was “intended to be swift and thorough”.
In a statement reported by the trade magazine Third Sector, Alexander said: “The allegations have come as a complete surprise to me, and are not true.
“Despite receiving the support of the board, I felt it would be inappropriate to continue as chair of the board of trustees while this important inquiry takes place.
“I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the upcoming review process and set out the facts. The Unicef UK team is tireless in its devotion to its work. It’s been a privilege to chair the board and I wish it all the success in the future.”
Third Sector reported allegations from about 10 staff members, including that Alexander “repeatedly displayed aggressive language and behaviour, including shouting at staff” and that sources claimed the charity had limited the number of staff in contact with Alexander to avoid further complaints.
Deshmukh resigned after his position became untenable because of a lack of action from the board, the magazine reported.
Unicef UK denied Deshmukh’s resignation was related to the bullying allegations against Alexander and said it did not recognise claims it had failed to investigate the complaints properly.
Alexander had been chair of Unicef UK since 2018, and was previously an MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South from 1997 to 2015, serving in a number of ministerial positions under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
In a lengthy statement posted on LinkedIn, Underwood said “something has gone horribly wrong” and that the bullying claims were a distraction from Unicef’s work.
“Douglas Alexander has been accused of bullying this week after an illustrious career in public life. In the time I have served with Douglas at Unicef UK I have personally experienced nothing but a dedicated commitment to helping Unicef UK move forward and a fierce ambition for the board and charity to be the best it can be,” she said.
“Yes, he is ambitious for the charity, yes because of that he is sometimes demanding as you might expect from someone with determination and vision, but he has shown outstanding leadership of an extraordinary board.
“On a personal day to day level I have only seen Douglas be considered, compassionate and polite.”
Unicef UK said its treasurer, Shatish Dasani, would take on the role of interim chair, and the search for a new chair would begin immediately.
Dasani said: “Unicef UK’s purpose is to make the world a better place for children. The board is looking to ensure that the organisation changes and the implementation of actions arising from the review makes us stronger in fulfilling this purpose”