File image: U2 lead singer Bono. IOL.

CAPE TOWN - Bono has apologised after claims were made that workers at a charity he co-founded were subjected to a culture of bullying and abuse.

The U2 singer, 57, said he was left “furious” after the allegations surfaced in November last year.

He admitted the ONE organisation failed to protect some employees at its Johannesburg office and said: “I need to take some responsibility for that.”

His comments came as the Mail on Sunday detailed a string of incidents, including allegations from a woman who says she was demoted after refusing to have sex with a Tanzanian MP.

“We are all deeply sorry. I hate bullying, can’t stand it,” he told the paper.

“The poorest people in the poorest places being bullied by their circumstance is the reason we set up ONE.

“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.”

Some former employees have launched legal action against the charity, which aims to tackle poverty and disease, particularly in Africa.

Gayle Smith, ONE’s chief executive officer since March last year, said an investigation found evidence of “unprofessional conduct” as well as “bullying and belittling of staff” between late 2011 and 2015.

“Staff were called names, and some said their manager put them to work on domestic tasks in her home,” she said in a statement.

“The investigation also found the situation was not adequately addressed nor resolved by executive management at the time, and that ONE’s board was not, in my view, properly or fully informed.”

She also acknowledged an allegation that a woman was “demoted because she did not become intimate” with an official from another country, but added: “We have not been able to corroborate these appalling claims.”

“We do not discount any allegation — we investigate them and will continue to do so should others arise.”

Bono said that although the allegations focus on one individual, “the head office failed to protect those employees and I need to take some responsibility for that.”

He added: “In fact, if they would agree, I would like to meet them and apologise in person.

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Taken together, the astonishing complaints depict an organisation driven by intimidation and contempt, with staff belittled and undermined, both in front of colleagues and in public.

The charity also failed to pay taxes – despite campaigning against tax evasion – and is alleged to have illegally employed foreign workers on tourist visas.

Much of the mistreatment is said to have been at the hands of Sipho Moyo, the former £173,000-a-year Africa executive director of ONE. The complaints include claims that she:

- Intimidated one member of staff into massaging her feet;

- Woke another worker at 1am in South Africa and ordered her to sort out the air-conditioning in her hotel room – in Seattle;

- Invited colleagues to parties at her house, only to use them as waiting staff, making one woman stand outside for up to seven hours mixing drinks;

- Ordered a worker to find her a greyhound puppy, then drive to another city to collect it.

Moyo, the organisation's most senior African official from 2010 until 2015, hit back last night. 

She said she 'vehemently denies' the bullying claims and argues she is being smeared. 

She claims that other directors treated her 'like their personal maid' and abused her in public.

ONE, whose board of high-profile figures includes David Cameron and Facebook chief Sheryl Sandberg, now admits there was 'mistreatment and inaction' by former managers.

The charity rushed out a public statement nine hours after this newspaper sent it a long list of allegations. 

Its current president, Gayle Smith, said she was 'troubled' by the claims, accepting there was 'what I would characterise as bullying and belittling of staff'.

The claims, backed by witness statements and documentary evidence, are hugely embarrassing for an organisation that harnesses celebrities to campaign against corruption, sexism and 'dirty money'.

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