Thomson Reuters Foundation

Irish rock star Bono apologised at the weekend over claims that staff at an anti-poverty charity he set up were bullied and intimidated, in the latest case of staff misconduct at a leading global charity.

Bono said he was "furious" to hear a string of accusations of bad conduct within the ONE charity's Johannesburg office, with former staff saying one woman was demoted when she refused to have sex with a foreign government official.

Former staff – some of whom are threatening to take legal action against ONE for failing to handle complaints properly – also said their manager made staff do domestic work at her home.

"We are all deeply sorry. I hate bullying, can't stand it," U2 singer Bono said in a statement sent to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Bono said he took some responsibility for the charity's head office failing to protect employees in Johannesburg with accusations spanning a four year period and offered to meet the victims to apologise in person.

The ex-employees tweeted allegations of misconduct in November last year, prompting an internal investigation.

"The poorest people in the poorest places being bullied by their circumstance is the reason we set up ONE," Bono said.

"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."

The allegations came to light as the aid sector is grappling with a string of sexual abuse and harassment scandals, including reports that Oxfam staff used prostitutes in Haiti and that former Save the Children executives harassed female staff.

ONE Chief Executive Gayle Smith said an investigation had found evidence of "unprofessional conduct" and "bullying and belittling" of staff in Johannesburg between 2011 and 2015.

"Staff were called names, and some said their manager put them to work on domestic tasks in her home," Ms Smith said in a statement.

"One former employee described how her manager made sexist and suggestive comments about her to a government official from another country."

Ms Smith, who took over in 2017, said they had been unable to corroborate the claims but did not discount any allegations.

She said ONE, which was set up in 2004 to fight extreme poverty, was taking measures to ensure better training and supervision and planned to introduce an anonymous complaint system.