Bono Apologizes as Accusations of Abuse Hit Charity He Co-Founded

LONDON — U2’s frontman, Bono, said this weekend he was “furious” after a charity he co-founded was rocked by accusations that it had long fostered an atmosphere of bullying, abuse and, in one case, an attempt at sexual coercion.

Bono apologized to the former employees of the charity, ONE, who detailed what they said was demoralizing treatment by managers at their office in Johannesburg from 2011 to 2015.

He said the charity, which aims to “end extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa,” had failed to protect the workers.

“I need to take some responsibility for that,” Bono said in a statement issued on Saturday that was published by the British newspaper The Mail on Sunday. “We are all deeply sorry. I hate bullying, can’t stand it.”

One employee said she had been demoted after refusing to have sex with a Tanzanian minister. Others told of being made to do domestic work at a manager’s house. Seven former employees have begun legal action against the charity, seeking 3.6 million pounds, or about $5 million, in damages, according to a spokesman for ONE.

On Sunday, the spokesman, Ian Koski, confirmed by email and in a phone call that the organization had received notification of an intent to file. Bono was not named in the filing.

The accusations first surfaced publicly when a former ONE employee from the Johannesburg office, Idriss Ali Nassah, spoke out in November on social media about the abuse accusations against the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and hinted at problems at the charity.

“The Weinstein situation et al had me thinking about rampant abuse of staff by two directors @ONEinAfrica office,” he said on Twitter.

According to Mr. Koski, the organization, whose previous chief executive died in 2016, got wind of the brewing scandal when other employees began sharing their experiences on social media. The charity then opened an investigation.

The chief executive of ONE, Gayle Smith, said in a statement that the inquiry showed there had been “an institutional failure.”

“The investigation yielded evidence of unprofessional conduct and, in particular, what I would characterize as bullying and belittling of staff between late 2011 and 2015 in our Johannesburg office,” the statement said.

Ms. Smith said that staff members were “called names” and confirmed that some had accused a manager of demanding that they carry out domestic tasks at her home. In addition, she said, the group found out that its African branch had been operating as a “nonresident taxpayer” from 2010 to 2015 and had not been paying taxes.

Ms. Smith said that the organization could not confirm the accusation of attempted sexual coercion and retaliation, which the statement described as “appalling claims.” However, she added, “We do not discount any allegation — we investigate them and will continue to do so should others arise.”

The statement said the inquiry had concluded that “the situation was not adequately addressed nor resolved by executive management at the time.”

Ms. Smith, who joined the company in 2017, has apologized to all 14 employees who came forward with complaints, Mr. Koski said. Seven of them say they intend to sue, he said, including Mr. Nassah, who posted the first message on Twitter.

ONE, which Bono helped found in 2004, has nine million volunteers and staff members around the world: in Abuja, Nigeria; Berlin; Brussels; Johannesburg; London; New York; Ottawa; Paris; and Washington, where the charity has its headquarters.

The charity does not depend on government financing, raising funds through corporations and individuals. It advocates government action on causes like battling tuberculosis and malaria.

The charity has a global operating budget of $35 million. Former Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain; Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer; and Aliko Dangote, Nigeria’s wealthiest person, are among the prominent figures on its board.

The ONE revelations come as several charity organizations are grappling with accusations of misconduct. Oxfam, one of Britain’s largest charities, has acknowledged that staff members committed “sexual misconduct” in Haiti in 2011. Senior officials there have been accused of hiring prostitutes, including for sex parties.

A high-ranking Unicef official, Justin Forsyth, resigned in February after he was accused of misconduct against female employees while he worked for another charity organization, Save the Children.

And Brendan Cox, the widower of the murdered British lawmaker Jo Cox, stepped down from two charities created in her memory after accusations of sexual misconduct were reported in the British news media this year.

Bono said in his statement that he had been aware of “concerns about low morale and poor management in this office but nothing along the lines of what emerged recently.”

“The poorest people in the poorest places being bullied by their circumstance is the reason we set up ONE,” he added. “So to discover last November that there were serious and multiple allegations of bullying in our office in Johannesburg left me and the ONE board reeling and furious. You question the whole reason you’re doing this.”

Bono added: “The head office failed to protect those employees and I need to take some responsibility for that. In fact, if they would agree, I would like to meet them and apologize in person.”