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Chair among five to resign from The Vegan Society after making allegations of racism

19 Jul 2021 News

Several members of the board and council at The Vegan Society, including the chair and vice-chair, have quit amid allegations of racism and bullying.

The former members have published their resignation letters which include allegations around racist and bullying behaviours and their frustrations about a recent independent investigation.

Those who resigned are: Robb Masters, former chair; Eshe Kiama Zuri, former vice-chair; Michele Fox, former trustee; Sally Anderson, former council secretary, and Joel Bravette, former sustainability champion.

In their letter Eshe Kiama Zuri describes a “hostile” environment and racist language. Others expressed concern about how their colleagues had been treated.  

The Vegan Society acknowledged that it needs to “evolve into an even more diverse and inclusive organisation”.

Independent investigation  

The Vegan Society appointed a lawyer to independently investigate complaints about the vice-chair, Eshe Kiama Zuri after people had accused them of discriminatory and offensive behaviour.

Complainants also claimed that the the chair had enabled this behaviour. None of the complaints against the chair were upheld.

The investigation looked at a number of social media posts from Eshe Kiama Zuri. It concluded that the majority of complaints made against the vice-chair were not upheld.

Two posts were flagged as having inappropriate and unprofessional language because they could be related to the charity. Nonetheless, the report made no criticism for their expressing feelings of frustration within those two posts. 

The report, which has been leaked online, concludes that these “complaints against Eshe Kiama Zuri appear to have been motivated by a profound personal animosity towards Eshe Kiama Zuri related in part to Eshe Kiama Zuri identity and protected characteristics, to their stance on a number of political and ideological issues and to friendships with individuals who were displaced from leadership positions…”.

The report adds that the charity took a significant period of time to decide how to respond to complaints made against Eshe Kiama Zuri, who had previously and appropriately raised concerns about their treatment by members of council and the society.

The lawyer's report also says that they received evidence that  Eshe Kiama Zuri was misgendered in meetings and was on occasions treated in a way which gave rise to legitimate concerns about the fairness and equality of their treatment.

Vegan Society: ‘There has been conflict amongst the board’

The Vegan Society now has five trustees. Jenifer Vinell has been elected as the new chair and Mellissa Morgan is the vice-chair.

It said it plans to implement recommendations from the report, and described the resignations as “regrettable”. 

A spokesperson for the charity said: “There has been conflict amongst the board that we have been working hard to address and it is regrettable that they have chosen to leave the day before a planned mediation session.  We thank them for their work for the society and wish them well for their future endeavours.

“The society recently commissioned an independent report by Ijeoma Omambala QC in relation to complaints by members against two of the former trustees. We are seeking to implement the general recommendations to the board in the report as quickly as possible.

“As with many charities, The Vegan Society has a number of challenges that we must address as we evolve into an even more diverse and inclusive organisation. This is something we are actively working on, supported by respected external ED&I consultants, and our commitment is to foster an inclusive environment for all of our staff, trustees, members and supporters.”

The former chair responded on Twitter, accusing the charity of “gaslighting” people with its statement.

'Dehumanised' 

Eshe Kiama Zuri describes a hostile environment where they felt “dehumanised”. 

In their resignation letter, they state: “Within the first hours of being voted on council, one trustee said the N-word in conversation with me and I was then also told that most trustees did not vote for me. Since then it has been continuously hostile.” 

This has taken a toll on their health, they add. 

“The lack of transparency and support for marginalised, targeted and vulnerable trustees has been eye-opening and experiencing this has made me feel dehumanised, unsupported and victim-blamed, as well as giving me mental health and physical health issues as a result,” they say. 

Furthermore they say that they are “not the first person to be forced out of The Vegan Society” and that the experience means they have “lost work and been harmed personally and professionally”.  

Robb Masters, former chair, writes that Black and multiply-marginalised trustees “have faced hostility and had their expertise and experiences dismissed”.  

He adds that the independent investigation cost the charity £40,000, “t​​aking more than six months to address, and undermining our democracy in the meantime”. 

Another former trustee says that their experience and skills were ignored and dismissed. 

Joel Bravette writes: “I did not join the society as a member or a trustee to be belittled, demeaned, racialised, mischaracterised, publicly questioned because of my ethnic background, coerced to abandon my principles on justice for all, called an anti-Semite for recognising the difference between Jewish people and the Israeli state, have my lived experience ignored nor my professional aptitude dismissed.” 

Others were frustrated about how their colleagues were treated.

Michele Fox writes that “the vitriolic and sustained social media campaign instigated against Eshe and Robb” by a former trustee, were “rooted in hatred”.

Sally Anderson says: “Ongoing bullying of the vice-chair – and the complete lack of concern for their physical and mental health (actually made worse by the lip service paid to being concerned about same) - has been of particular concern.”

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Editor's note 20 July

This headline has been changed to add the word 'making' to make clear the former board members have made these allegations.

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