The Presidents Club charity that hosted a fundraising event where female staff were allegedly groped and propositioned has been slammed for taking “careful steps” to protect the privacy of the male guests, while not safeguarding workers.
The Charity Commission said trustees had “demonstrated poor judgement” at the January dinner, which was the subject of an undercover sting operation that led to the organisation closing down.
The regulator said trustees breached their legal duties by failing to address the risk to the charity’s reputation posed by holding an all-male event at which female hostesses were instructed to wear “sexy” shoes.
The commission found that there were significant failures at the Presidents Club Charitable Trust and that its trustees were in breach of a number of their key charity law duties.
It said trustees’ failure to put in place clear or adequate procedures and policies to “deal with harassment or improper behaviour at the event was in stark contrast to the measures they took to protect the privacy of the guests”.
The commission said any event organised by a charity should aim to provide a “safe environment for everyone involved”.
The commission has issued the trustees with formal regulatory advice and agreed an action plan with the wound-up charity in “order to gather in as much of the money raised at the event as possible”.
“Thereafter, the trustees, working with the commission, will ensure that the charity is wound up in an orderly manner and that remaining funds reach the causes for which they were intended. Further events will no longer take place upon the winding up of the charity,” the report reads.
The commission’s chief executive, Helen Stephenson, said the allegations that surfaced from the event were “entirely at odds” with what it would expect from any charity raising funds for an important cause.
“Our report should serve as a warning to others that raising funds for charity does not absolve trustees of their legal duties or moral responsibilities,” she said.
“Quite the reverse, the manner in which they are raised is just as important. The public expect the highest standards of conduct from registered charities. When a charity fails to meet those standards, it can risk the very reason it was set up in the first place.”
Stephenson said charities and their fundraising events should be places where “all people are protected from harm, and where all people are treated with respect and care”.
“It is clear from our findings that the trustees of the Presidents Club failed to put the proper steps in place to ensure the January dinner fully met those expectations,” she said.
“The trustees thought insufficiently about the welfare of the women hired to work at their charity’s event while taking careful steps to protect the privacy of the male guests attending the dinner.”
Stephenson said it was not the commission’s role to determine whether any of the women working at the event were subjected to harassment or abuse, however, it found “that the trustees’ attitude towards their welfare in the name of charity fell short of what would be expected in the 21st century”.
She said the commission had no evidence that the trustees acted in “bad faith”.
“But they demonstrated poor judgment, and a lack of awareness of the important legal duties and responsibilities the law places on trustees,” Stephenson added.
The report details breaches of trustees’ charity law duties including:
- As a result of the lack of written contracts with suppliers, absence of oversight and a lack of awareness of the relevant regulatory guidance, the commission finds that the trustees did not act with reasonable care and skill.
- The trustees failed to comply with their legal duty to manage charity resources responsibly, specifically avoiding exposing the charity’s assets, beneficiaries or reputation to undue risk.