As the world begins to open its eyes to the depth and scale of racial injustice crisis in the US, we also need to recognise that we – as an organisation – don’t exist outside of the structures that discriminate, hurt and hold back Black people all over the world. In this context, there are no innocent bystanders. We are complicit.
Racism and white supremacy is, no doubt, present across our campaigns and in how they may play out in the countries we work in. As an environmental and social justice organization, we strive for solutions that put people and planet first, and aim to challenge systems that enable corruption, human rights abuses and environmental devastation.
So, what role can we now play? What can we do to ensure our work doesn’t propagate racism and legacies of oppression? These questions have circled in our hearts and minds over the last few weeks, as we become more familiar with the role we, as a global non-profit based in London, Brussels and Washington, D.C., play in the structures of the violent white supremacy playing out at home and abroad.
In recent years, the international NGO sector has started to look more closely at how it is reflecting the structural racism echoed in wider society. In the UK, research shows green NGOs are the second least diverse sector in the country after farming. Clearly too few staff are representative of the communities they work in or those whose rights they purport to champion. And too many charities still release the same damaging, disempowering images of Black children with the argument that that it is what works best for fundraising.
This important work holding the sector to account is largely led by Black people and people of colour, with organisations such as Black Lives Matter, Charity So White and The Advocacy Team calling out racism and marginalisation. They have been shedding a light on how internal practice, recruitment and access have pushed many from minority backgrounds away from even considering a career in an NGO, let alone applying for a role and going through an interview process.
At Global Witness, we need to look at getting our own house in order. The first step is, of course, to recognise we are part of the problematic disconnect between striving for a better world and continuing to operate in a way that fails to confront some of the most damaging aspects of the status quo and – in some cases – making it worse. We talk about “exposing the facts” and “changing the system”, but the reality is we haven’t done enough when it comes to racial injustice.
The makeup of our staff body is not diverse, and there are not enough safe spaces for those from minority backgrounds. At times, people of colour have had to shout far too loudly to be heard. While we’ve made big efforts to address it, the language, metaphors and framing in our investigations need continued work and a critical internal eye to stop playing into damaging tropes. On a national and global level, the structure of inequality of funding, of access to the corridors of power and the key legislative bodies, of access to equipment, of access to white skin to be heard on environmental and on human rights issues are baked into the heart of the NGO sector. We are no exception. But in recent years, we have been taking early steps to overcome some of this.
First, as an organization that carries out investigations and campaigning in the global South, we have developed partnerships with allies working on the ground in the countries we focus on and have done more to ensure we can provide resources to help them do their work. More recently, we’ve created new job roles dedicated to more inclusive, supportive and less exploitative relationships with our partners, and have built structures to give BIPOC (Black, indigenous and people of colour) voices a platform in our media and communications outputs.
Second, we have implemented organisation-wide training with Fearless Futures, which has made it clearer than ever that Diversity & Inclusion training is an early but vital part of our work to tackle systemic racism.
We have built the very principles of climate justice into our work protecting Land & Environmental Defenders, campaigning heavily for investors and businesses to not just look at the environmental impacts of their operations, but also to carefully assess the damage that can be done on a social and governance level too. As the case of Berta Cáceres shows, building a sustainable hydropower plant shouldn’t get a green tick for investors if it displaces indigenous communities and leads to threats, attacks and murder. We know the important intersection of where climate and race lie. Communities of colour are often the hardest hit by the climate crisis, and this understanding must underline our work as we continue to build our campaigns focusing on the climate crisis.
And we continue to work hard to shift the narratives and advocacy objectives in our work away from framing fragile governments in the “third world” as the problem, to a focus on the levers of power held by UK, EU and US governments, banks and corporates, used to drive corruption, environmental damage and human rights abuses.
This is only a start.
It is easy to make empty commitments and to talk blithely about dismantling systems that protect a white majority, whilst acting to cling on to what might make us feel safe and unthreatened. But I don’t want to do this. So we will continue to take practical steps, listening to and being led by our Black colleagues and people of colour within the organisation.
We will set out our progress on this each year, with a report on the progress we are making on the commitments to improve our working culture, so that our organisation is a place people of colour and other minority groups know they can thrive.
Here is what we’re publicly committing to do going forward in the next year:
- Diversity & Inclusion accountability: At the moment, Diversity & Inclusion work is done in the (very limited) spare time of a group of dedicated individuals, alongside their day job. To improve internal practices and build more safe spaces, we will allocate time and resource within job roles for the creation of a formal mechanism to hold management to account on diversity and inclusion programmes.
- Safe spaces: We know how important it is to create private, accessible and comfortable spaces within an organisation so that staff are supported, able to express themselves freely and be heard. Speaking out on racism and micro-aggression should never leave an employee feeling like their reputation or career is at risk. We will conduct an internal review on how best to create more safe spaces internally and look to implement at least two clear safe spaces for staff of colour and minority groups by the end of the year. The highest priority is strengthening safe spaces for Black staff.
- Recruitment review: We will also carry out a broad review into the end-to-end process of our recruitment. This will include how the language used in job posts and where we advertise may be stopping us from reaching a truly diverse pool of potential candidates. Going forward, all interview panels will have at least one person of colour on them, and that person will be supported by HR at all times to ensure their voice is heard.
- Campaign successes: Our campaigns are formed to tackle the root causes behind environmental degradation and associated human rights abuses – leading us to investigate and expose problematic behaviour of companies and governments globally. We know that we are often working on the same issues as local partners or local communities and that we must do more to ensure that our investigations and campaign goals are formed with these partnership and communities in mind. We should be reporting on how well a campaign includes local partners, how it amplifies voices, and how it supports the advocacy goals of local communities.