Note: this is a working document – updated in May 2021 to include a new section on ‘our funding’ plus brief updates on previous commitments made. We warmly welcome constructive suggestions for what we can and should do.
We all have a responsibility to address racial injustice in our food systems. At the Food Ethics Council, we acknowledge our failure to do so sufficiently in the past. We commit to taking concrete actions to address racial injustice, including changing the way we work and what we work on, platforming diverse and under-represented voices and collaborating with others to address structural injustices. We will strive to bring racial justice to the centre of our food systems by working with others and changing our practices as organisations, institutions, and as a sector.
The Food Ethics Council has a responsibility to address racial injustice in our food systems
We – ‘we’ as the Food Ethics Council, ‘we’ as the charity sector, ‘we’ as the food sector and ‘we’ as society – have failed to adequately address diversity and inclusion in the food sector; but also have failed to properly tackle wider racial injustices linked to food.
We believe in food systems – and societies – that are fair for all. We commit to working towards eliminating all injustice and abuse of power in our food systems, not least so that all are free to make their own decisions about food and that all have a voice in public decision-making (‘fair say’). This includes, but is not limited to, addressing racial injustice and racism. Everyone – no matter their ethnicity (or gender or other personal characteristic) – should have the same chances to access nutritious, culturally appropriate food and to participate fairly in shaping better food systems.
We at the Food Ethics Council publicly acknowledge that there is much more that we could, should and must do to address racial injustice. We need to listen, to learn, and to act. We will get things wrong, but we believe it is better to speak out than be silent and to be transparent in our process.
Racial injustice is manifest in our food systems
We recognise the marginalisation of dominant ethnicities in other regions of the world from which the UK derives its food and to whom it exports its agricultural technologies. We stand in solidarity with People of Colour and other ethnicities, not only in the UK, but other regions of the world. They are often marginalised, hungry and without Rights (for example, to food, land and seeds), poorly remunerated for producing our food, and their agroecological production systems and environment harmed by industrial agriculture.
We recognise that there are diverse historical and current racial injustices manifest in our food systems.
To pick one example, a disproportionate number of Black people experience household food insecurity. In December 2019, some 40% of Black Londoners – over 400,000 people – were experiencing food insecurity and this is likely to have increased dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic in London and other parts of the UK. Structural racism affects socioeconomic rights such that racially marginalised people are at greater risk of poverty, hunger, poor access to public services and housing. These issues intersect. Generally, low-income areas have a high percentage of fast food outlets and other shops that sell cheap, highly processed foods. Often there are limited public transport opportunities here to other shops and markets.
Another example of the injustices facing People of Colour is the struggle of access to land for Black people. Black people (and other minority ethnic groups) have been consistently denied access to land in the past. In the U.S. this was in part due to racist mortgage-lending and red-lining practices that intentionally kept Black people from owning property. Patterns of land ownership in the UK are concentrated and often hereditary, frequently reflecting wealth that was built on the exploitation of people from other parts of the world in the UK’s extensive colonial past. This historic injustice is one key reason why there are so few Black farmers in the UK today, and why it remains difficult for young Black people to get into farming.
These are just two of countless examples of racial injustice manifest in our food systems and which are of concern to us as an organisation deeply committed to establishing normative moral values concerning food production and the relationships existing between actors within the food system and people, as well as addressing other ethical issues of significance within the food system. The Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted various food system injustices and brought them into the public consciousness. Increasingly the UK is examining its own colonial history and the multiple, complex ways racism manifests in contemporary life, including in the food and farming system. It is our intention to deal directly with issues of racial injustice in the food system such that we are able to build and support truly just food systems. This is work we will do within our organisation, in collaboration with other organisations in this sector and in conversations with policymakers on a local, regional and national scale.
At the Food Ethics Council, we recognise that we may be a beneficiary of racial injustice insofar as receiving grants from organisations which may have profited from historical racial injustices such as links to colonialism. Such activities in the past are abhorrent and totally at odds with our values. Having discussed this extensively at Board level, we believe it to be acceptable to receive such grants only if those organisations are seriously committed in their current policies and practices to actively working against racial injustices.
An example of this that we have recently been made aware of is the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JRCT) – of which we are a current grantee and have received grant funding from several times previously. In April 2021, JRCT announced that it had been critically examining its own history and the origins of its wealth via the Rowntree company, whose wealth was used to establish three endowed Trusts in 1904, of which JRCT was one. It found: “The preliminary research identified evidence that suggests that the Rowntree company purchased cocoa and other goods produced by enslaved people and benefitted from the system of colonial indenture.” JRCT responded to these findings by acknowledging its role, apologising unreservedly and committing to take action – its full statement is available here.
We believe JRCT has been frank in acknowledging this, stressing that its current work is based on Quaker values entirely at odds with what happened in the past and has publicly stated its wish to find ways of engaging in restorative justice and to examine racial imbalance in its own governance structures. We commend JRCT’s transparency and support the actions it is now taking. We encourage other funders to follow this lead. We believe openness, including of funding and the origins of those funds, is central to taking meaningful action to address past and present injustices. We take such issues extremely seriously and commit to supporting positive action that existing and potential future funders take, holding them to account.
We commit to taking actions to address racial injustice that are within our sphere of influence
Our Board of Trustees has approved a set of specific actions to take and action areas to work on in the longer-term. This is a work in progress, so is not an exhaustive list. However, we are keen to learn and to take proactive steps. A summary of first actions we are taking:
What we work on:
- Understand and centre how racial injustices manifest in our core focus issues in the coming year (poverty, livestock, the research agenda) – ONGOING: WE CONTINUE TO EXPLORE THIS
- Dedicate space for the racial dimension of injustice as part of our ‘On the road to Food Justice’ work – DONE IN 2020
- Promote research within the UK food sector into the ways food and race intersect – OUTSTANDING
- Use our website, social media activity and other external-facing communications to highlight useful resources and events on race and food – IN PROGRESS: SEE SOME FOOD AND RACIAL INJUSTICE RESOURCES ON OUR WEBSITE HERE
- Ensure that when we review and test policy ideas (e.g. via Food Policy on Trial), it includes interrogating them with an explicit attention to racial justice – ONGOING
Internally and how we work:
- Platform diverse and underrepresented voices (particularly, but not limited to, People of Colour) in our publications, blogs, workshops and events – ONGOING
- Promote and/ or partner with organisations either led by People Of Colour or working on the intersection of food and race issues – OUTSTANDING
- Take active steps to increase diversity (particularly, but not limited to, ethnic diversity) of our Council, our staff, our business network, our work with other NGOs, and our guest speakers – IN PROGRESS
- Online training for all staff and Trustees on cognitive bias and diversity – IN PROGRESS: KEY TEAM MEMBERS WILL BE DOING ACTION LEARNING ON ANTI-RACISM AND ANTI-OPPRESSION IN 2021
We are working on these actions and will continue to do so. We welcome suggestions and comments on how we can better address the impact of food injustices on People of Colour.
We also recognise the importance of language. In this document we refer to People of Colour and Black people (capitalised), but elsewhere we refer to Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people or communities. We are open to advice on the best terms to use and in what contexts.
The Food Ethics Council has a wider commitment to diversity
The Food Ethics Council is firmly committed to diversity in all areas of its work, including social diversity. There are many different aspects to social diversity including, but not limited to age, disability, gender, sexual orientation, race and religion or belief. We believe that we have much to learn from the many ethnic groups and diverse cultures which constitute society and from their understanding and perspectives. We also recognise that diversity itself can strengthen our organisation and make it more effective in achieving its aims.
As an organisation focused on ethics, we strongly believe in the value of diversity, including considering how courses of action look from the perspectives of a range of different interest groups. Our work towards fair, resilient and biodiverse food systems involves embracing diversity. We value diversity of thought and diversity in how we work, and want to be relevant and accessible to all. When our work includes stakeholders or public involvement processes, we will endeavour to involve people who will bring a wide range of perspectives.
We see a key role for the Food Ethics Council as being to recognise that ethical issues in the food system interact with other cultural issues such as race, gender and class. A holistic decision-making framework on food issues would need to take account of such intersecting issues. Hence, we see an important part of our role as being to make ourselves and our stakeholders more aware of those intersections. Ethical decision-making in food needs to take account of those issues and ensure that decisions seek to correct existing injustices or inequalities (e.g. ethnic minorities or those living with disability in food deserts).
We are committed to developing and maintaining an organisation in which differing ideas, abilities, backgrounds and needs are fostered and valued, and where those with diverse backgrounds and experiences are able to participate and contribute.
Aspects of social diversity the Food Ethics Council will focus on initially – where we strive to get an appropriate balance – are:
- Skills and experience across food system – staff, Trustees and Council members are appointed to the Food Ethics Council on the basis of the relevant knowledge and experience they can bring to our work. Professional expertise is a major factor in appointments, but we also recognise that people with different life experiences (and lived experience) and from different ethnicities bring different views and ideas to our work on food and agriculture.
- Geographical – by which we mean inclusive coverage of the peoples in the four nations that make up the United Kingdom and appropriate representation of the regions
- Demographic – under which we will consider and aim to be as representative as possible of gender, age, ethnic group and socio-economic status
We will strive to bring racial justice to the centre of our food systems by working with others
Our organisation’s purpose is to bring ethics to the centre of food systems. A critical question for us is how can we at the Food Ethics Council bring racial justice to the centre of our food systems, addressing the root causes of racial injustice – by working with other NGOs and social movements in the sector and beyond? Please join us in answering that question.
Food Ethics Council
Original statement in September 2020 – updated in May 2021