The Vegan Society doubles down on racism and corruption

I thought I'd said my last on The Vegan Society, and I planned to leave them in 2021 – with all the year's other unpleasantries. But following my open letter regarding the failure of The Vegan Society to address complaints from current and former members (including former trustees), the current trustees have hastily issued rejections to all known complaints. And far from addressing legitimate concerns about racism and corruption, their responses have only reinforced them.

Furthermore, after malicious complaints hung heavy over my Christmas 2020 (with my exoneration only coming six months later), I can't help finding it particularly spiteful that trustees chose Christmas Eve 2021 to add insult to injury..

While I've already mentioned some of The Vegan Society's previous responses to complaints, I think their latest would benefit from a thorough analysis. However, before I get into that, it's worth emphasising a couple of key points. Unlike the consideration of complaints made by those close to current trustees last December, the consideration of complaints made against those trustees have the following hallmarks:

There has been no impartiality

Complaints made by those close to current trustees last December were considered by an independent QC – who rejected all complaints against myself (as Chair at the time) and the vast majority against the Vice-Chair (only finding that they had been "unprofessional" on two occasions, by making social media posts that could be related back to the society, yet recommending no censure owning to around a dozen aggravating and mitigating factors).

However, complaints made against current trustees were only considered by a subcommittee of compromised trustees – with four members of this subcommittee hand-selected by the accused trustees, and the fifth promoted and celebrated by the instigator of last year's malicious complaints.

Of course, this is not the first time that several of these trustees have appointed their own "judge and jury", doing much the same at the 2015 AGM (where they chose the members of an Appeals Committee that would rule supreme on any attempts by Council to remove individual trustees).

Furthermore, the same trustees strongly objected to the Vice-Chair and myself having a vote on whether the Council Secretary (notably the only unanimously elected officer) could deputise for us if neither was available – and demanded on the removal of the Council Secretary's casting vote (contrary to article 15 of The Vegan Society's legal-binding Articles of Association). Yet, in trustees' co-option of new trustees who would consider complaints against them, they had a much clearer and much stronger conflict of interest.

There has been no investigation

While the QC looking at complaints made by those close to current trustees last December interviewed the accusers, the accused, and any witnesses (and considered written evidence and representations), the subcommittee tasked with handling complaints against those trustees has not interviewed complainants or witnesses, nor asked either for evidence. Despite this, they have used very strong language in their dismissal of complaints – i.e. "rejected" as opposed to, say, "not upheld" (preferred by the QC). Indeed, it seems that they have simply taken the word of current trustees (i.e. the accused).

Additionally, the 2021 subcommittee has not addressed all complaints – instead attempting to blame, gaslight, and make false accusations against complainants in an apparent attempt to discredit them and to divert attention from their complaints. Such responses are inappropriate and unprofessional (ironic when these were the only complaints upheld against former trustees).

Complaints

Between 8 March and 27 November, while still a member of The Vegan Society, I lodged three formal complaints with the board – covering more than 20 concern about trustees' conflicts of interest and loyalty, more than 25 concerns about oppressive behaviour by trustees (typically racism), and one concern about a false claim made by a trustee (both in their candidate statement for re-election to the Council of The Vegan Society, and on The Vegan Society website).

Complaint 1: Conflicts of Interest and Loyalty

I originally raised concerns about trustees' conflicts of interest and loyalty on 8 March 2021, after speaking to the society's HR advisor. However, I subsequently agreed "to put these on hold until after the investigation to avoid the process being cancelled at this late stage". With the completion of the QC's investigation, I re-opened them on 6 June.

Further to my email of Friday, I can confirm that I would like to officially re-open my formal complaint regarding the failure of certain trustees to recuse themselves from the complaints process owing to serious conflicts of interest and loyalty - even possible complicity (potentially including breaches of confidentiality). As such, I understand that I should email you [the Council Secretary] directly rather than the Council mailing list.

While you will be aware that my previous email preceded your message about the proposed disbandment of the IC [Investigation Committee], that motion only underlines my concerns. The IC does not need to be "re-balanced"; it needs to be impartial. For justice to be served (and seen to be served) it is vital that all those with the responsibility of passing judgement, making recommendations, or imposing sanctions meet the following criteria:

  1. They have no conflicts of interest (and would not reasonably be perceived to have any conflicts of interest).
  2. They have no conflicts of loyalty (and would not reasonably be perceived to have any conflicts of loyalty).
  3. They have not demonstrated any prejudgement regarding the outcome of the investigation (and would not reasonably be perceived to have demonstrated any prejudgement regarding the outcome of the investigation).
  4. They have not demonstrated any bias towards the accused (and would not reasonably be perceived to have demonstrated any bias towards the accused).
  5. They are not implicated in the creation or submission of these complaints or the associated allegations (and would not reasonably be perceived to be implicated in the creation or submission of these complaints or the associated allegations).

I do not consider that a number of the so-called "unrecused trustees" meet these criteria. Yet unless all such criteria are met, any judgements, recommendations, or sanctions will be unsafe and illegitimate - and the considerable time (both effort and elapsed) and costs (direct costs, indirect costs, and opportunity costs) spent on the investigation will have been wasted. Indeed, further time and costs will be incurred addressing a likely miscarriage of justice.

While I do not wish to fuel divisions on Council, I must prioritise a clear expression of such concerns over any possible offence that might be taken. Therefore, I will leave it to you to decide how much of the content of this email to share with trustees, whether any of it needs to be "softened" first, and where to share it (e.g. with full Council or only "unrecused trustees").

A summary of my specific concerns is as follows:

  1. The two main complainants (also those who have posted and shared disinformation most widely on social media) submitted their complaints (and started their online campaigns) just a a few days after collaborating with Stephen Walsh.
     
    1. Stephen Walsh collaborated with Tim Barford in a VegfestUK event on Sunday 13 December.
      Just four days later, Tim Barford made a complaint about the Vice-Chair and myself.
       
    2. Stephen Walsh collaborated with Brian Jacobs in a panel discussion on Sunday 20 December.
      Just four days later, Brian Jacobs made a complaint about the Vice-Chair and myself.

    Even if just a remarkable coincidence, this alone should lead to Stephen Walsh's recusal (or removal) to avoid any possibility or perception of collusion, bias, or conflict.
     
  2. The complaints (and allegations) started just a few weeks after Stephen Walsh and Jenifer Vinell lost the roles of Chair, and Vice-Chair despite neither of the Vice-Chair or myself having had any correspondence with the complainants for a number of years prior. (I had even received an apology from Tim Barford over the same disagreement, and I don't think Brian Jacobs has ever had any contact with the Vice-Chair.)
     
  3. Tim Barford has described Stephen Walsh, Jenifer Vinell, and David Gore (as well as Constantin Imbs) as his "pals".
     
  4. Stephen Walsh and Tim Barford have at least a 15-year history, including serving together as trustees for The Vegan Society. Jenifer Vinell previously served on Council with them both too (alongside Constantin Imbs.)
     
  5. Stephen Walsh and Brian Jacobs have at least a 12-year history (but probably more like 20).
     
  6. It was Stephen Walsh (as well as Sam Calvert, Head of Communications) that Tim Barford contacted with his complaint.
     
  7. Stephen Walsh was quick to dismiss (the relevance of) concerns raised about Tim Barford's previous behaviour on Council (e.g. the transphobic comments he made on social media that led to his departure).
     
  8. Stephen Walsh has previously referred to the risk of a coup by "intersectionalists" (apparently how he considers around half of the society's democratically elected trustees).
     
  9. Stephen Walsh previously bypassed The Vegan Society's due process for personal interests - for example, as described here: http://www.veganfitness.net/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=8110&start=75 (Indeed, he was removed as Company Secretary for a previous infraction.)
     
  10. Jenifer Vinell has explicitly stated that there are two "camps" on Council. This suggests that she and others have an undeclared conflict of loyalty, and this seems to be reinforced by Stephen Walsh, David Gore, Jenifer Vinell and Salim Akbar (i.e. all those who wanted Stephen and Jenifer as Chair and Vice-Chair, rather than Eshe and myself) seemingly voting as a block, or otherwise thwarting progress on Council.

    Note that I do not consider that "Vegan 4 the Many" falls foul of the same principle, as it merely includes those about whom public accusations and insinuations had been made, and we should not allow unsubstantiated allegations by one or two members to define who's in or out of any supposed "group" on Council. (Not to mention that "Vegan 4 the Many" exists outside of Council rather than within, and now includes a former trustee as well as current trustees.) Indeed, this seems to be (at least) the second attempt by Tim Barford to undermine The Vegan Society's Council by accusing a number of trustees who are then assumed to be tainted. We must not allow unsubstantiated allegations to override our democracy - nor call trustees' integrity or impartiality into question. However, trustees' own actions (as described in these points) are a different matter entirely.
     
  11. Stephen Walsh and David Gore (at least) have breached the charity's policies on trustee communications, and acting without authorisation, in order to discuss this matter directly with George Gill (former CEO), Louise Davies (Head of Campaigns, Policy and Research - and Interim CEO), and Sam Calvert (Head of Communications). In David Gore's case, this was even after Council explicitly denied him any involvement.
     
  12. Stephen Walsh and Jenifer Vinell have most to gain from attacks on the Chair and Vice-Chair, as they were recently replaced as Chair and Vice-Chair, and the only other candidates for these roles.
     
  13. Stephen Walsh, Jennifer Vinell and Menna Jones (a former trustee and Chair, and now a director of our trading subsidiary) have attempted to bring motions to both Council and our AGM that prejudge the outcome of this investigation.
     
  14. David Gore has had an issue with me for two years after I described one of his comments as racist (irrespective of whether or not that was a fair description). He has also protested that his recent 48-hour cooling off period was "unfair".
     
  15. Salim Akbar actively campaigned against my re-election to Council.
     
  16. Stephen Walsh and Jenifer Vinell have shown that they are prepared to reject explicit advice from both the Charity Commission and Bates Wells in order to act in their own interests.
     
    1. Stephen Walsh rejected Bates Wells' advice that all of Council unite behind the motion to adjourn the AGM as soon as it was opened - with such advice also echoing the spirit, if not the letter, of the Charity Commission's advice. (I think that Jenifer Vinell, and maybe also David Gore, spoke against this adjournment as well.)

      Notably, the defeat of this motion altered the constituency of the "unrecused trustees", undoubtedly enabling the proposal to disband the IC before the delivery of the investigation report.
       
    2. Jenifer Vinell rejected Bates Well's advice that those standing for re-election recuse themselves from votes on postponement / adjournment. (I also consider that this advice applied equally to Stephen Walsh's personal interest in Special Resolutions 4 and 5, yet he voted on postponement / adjournment too.)
       
    Stephen Walsh (at least) has also voted on Council motions in which he had a personal interest (e.g. whether to put Special Resolutions 4 and 5 to the members at the AGM, and whether to adopt Special Resolutions 4 and 5 as Council resolutions).
     
  17. It is hard to believe that members of trustees' immediate families were commenting disingenuously on public allegations about their colleagues on Council without the blessing of those trustees. Notably:
     
    1. Stephen Walsh's wife, Vanessa Clarke, claimed to be posting "in the interests of transparency", yet failed to reveal that either that she was Stephen Walsh's wife or that she was a member of the Appeals Committee.
       
    2. Jenifer Vinell's daughter, Isis Clegg-Vinell, posted judgements regarding complaints about the Vice-Chair, even changing her name on Facebook in an apparent attempt to conceal their relationship.
       
  18. Stephen Walsh and Jenifer Vinell would undoubtedly not want to see their partners or children considered to have posted or supported false information, or taken "the wrong side", creating an incentive to find in favour of the complainants (even without the blessing in the previous point).
     
  19. While standing to benefit from the disinformation being shared by the complainants, Stephen Walsh and Jenifer Vinell took no steps to distance themselves from either the content of the allegations or the tactics, either publicly or privately (the obvious implication being that they welcomed them).
     
  20. Tim Barford has confirmed that a trustee has been leaking him confidential information. This cannot be our most recently elected trustee (Mellissa Morgan) and is unlikely to be any of the about whom he has made online allegations and insinuations. That only leaves Stephen Walsh, Jenifer Vinell, David Gore, and Salim Akbar.
     
  21. Stephen Walsh has made some of the same unsubstantiated allegations on Council that Tim Barford has made in public (e.g. blocking complaints, contributing to the departures of Menna Jones and George Gill).

Therefore, in order to comply with charity law - and for the investigation to be both just and seen to be just - Stephen and Jenifer at least must recuse themselves, or be removed. Should this not happen, I can see no option other than raising this with the Charity Commission's whistleblower service.

I followed up on 17 July 2021.

Dear CEO,

While The Vegan Society reacted immediately to complaints against me (even if it did take 7 months to conclude the investigation), it does not seem to have taken any action regarding my own formal complaint of 6 June. Therefore, I call on the society to urgently rectify this disparity. For convenience, my complaint is repeated below:

[Email as above.]

Furthermore, I would like to add the following concerns to this complaint:

  1. Trustees regularly ignore / reject professional advice. As well as wasting the money spent on that advice, this ensures that The Vegan Society is not following best practice.
     
  2. Trustees have acted unlawfully - even criminally.
     
    1. Providing inaccurate information in the original Serious Incident Report.

      The incident actually started on or around 16 December 2020 (more than a month earlier than claimed), and the charity also became aware of the incident on or around 16 December 2020 (again, more than a month earlier than claimed).

      I understand this is a criminal offence under section 60 of the Charities Act 2011.
       
    2. Omitting key information from the original Serious Incident Report

      The Serious Incident Report omitted that the complainant had been making a series of public allegations on social media (Facebook and YouTube) in addition to his complaint that seem more likely to cause harm to the charity than the complaint itself.

      I understand this is a criminal offence under section 60 of the Charities Act 2011.
       
    3. Providing inaccurate information in the update to the Serious Incident Report.

      The update to the Serious Incident Report on 3 June mentions that "Six trustees who had been repeatedly named in social media posts but had been asked by the society not to respond individually to such posts, developed a website (www.vegan4themany.com) to present their perspective." However, my recollection is not that we were "asked" not to respond (although we may have been advised or recommended not to do so – for our own benefits, rather than the society's).

      I understand this is a criminal offence under section 60 of the Charities Act 2011.
       
    4. Omitting key information from the update to the Serious Incident Report

      The update to the Serious Incident Report on 3 June mentions that "a motion was put to the membership to adjourn the meeting. That motion failed". However, it omits that a number of trustees argued against this motion – contrary to advice from both the Charity Commission and the charity's lawyers (Bates Wells).

      I understand this is a criminal offence under section 60 of the Charities Act 2011.
       
    5. Withholding details of meetings and motions
      53. (1) The directors may delegate any of their powers or functions to a committee of two or more directors but the terms of any delegation must be recorded in the minute book.

      59. Public versions of all such minutes shall be published to The Vegan Society's website, currently www.vegansociety.com, and in any other manner such as the directors see fit, within one month of the date of the relevant meeting. The directors will be entitled to remove any confidential items, such as those of a commercially sensitive nature or to do with personnel matters, from the public version of the minutes.
      However, none of the minutes of Council meetings from which the Char and Vice-Chair recused themselves have been so published, nor any of the motions passed by these trustees (whether at these meeting or electronically) included the delegation to the Investigation Committee.
       
    6. Acting on conflicts of interest and loyalty
       
      1. Jenifer Vinell is the mother of one of the complainants, yet refused to recuse herself from any discussions or votes on the investigation report.
         
      2. Stephen Walsh, Jenifer Vinell and David Gore all have various connection to two of the complainants, yet they refuse to recuse themselves from discussions or votes on the investigation report.
         
      3. Jenifer Vinell was up for re-election at the recent AGM, yet she refused to recuse herself from votes on its postponement or adjournment (despite explicit advice from our lawyers).
         
      4. Stephen Walsh's wife is on the appeals committee, yet he refused to recuse himself from votes on motions to replace this committee with an independent arbitrator.
         
      5. Stephen Walsh has been on Council for at least 15 years, yet he refused to recuse himself from motion to bring in recommended term limits (i.e. 9 years).
         
    7. Calling illegitimate Council meetings (and passing illegitimate motions)

      Paragraph 47(2) of our articles specify that "A minimum of four directors may call a meeting of the directors at any time. All of the directors will receive notice of meetings."23 However, Stephen Walsh et al have used this power to pass votes and to call Council meetings for which only a subset of directors received notice.

      While any group of trustees is entitled to have informal chats amongst themselves, this does not constitute a formal Council meeting, and does not have the power to pass motions.

      Furthermore, they have sought to remove the Chair's casting vote (and actually did so for the acting Chair once the Vice Chair and I had recused ourselves) in breach of our Articles.

I expect the handling of this complaint to be conducted in accordance with the precedent set by the recent investigation in the former Chair and Vice Chair, i.e.

  • accused / implicated parties will recuse themselves
  • a senior QC will be appointed for the investigation
  • the executive report of the investigation will be made public (and the full report, if applicable)
  • my identity will be withheld from any report (even if I share my concerns publicly)
  • I will face no consequences if my complaints are not upheld (even if they are deemed false or malicious)

Please note that this complaint will also be forwarded to the Charity Commission.

I followed up again on 16 August and 11 September (see below).

Complaint 2: Institutional Oppression

In my email of 11 September, I raised a second complaint regarding behaviour by trustees that I considered to reinforce institutional oppression.

The Telegraph has issued a correction and an apology. Mail Online has offered to do likewise, and I expect the same from Daily Mail. However, I remain disappointed at having to pursue such action myself, rather than The Vegan Society doing so - particularly given previous assurances and requests for corrections by the society.

Regarding my existing complaint, please could you express my dissatisfaction to Council that six months after I made a formal complaint, I have not even received the assurances that Tim Barford had received one week after making his complaint, let alone seen any sign of the conclusion (or even the start!) of an independent investigation (as was the case for complaints against me).

I consider that this egregious discrepancy only reinforces the concerns about conflicts of loyalty and interest at the heart of my complaint - with The Vegan Society establishment seemingly determined to protect certain trustees (as well as their family members, friends and allies) from any accountability, regardless of the resultant harm to members, the society per se, or the movement. This is blatantly contrary to trustees' legal obligations, including their explicit commitments regarding conflicts of interest and loyalty and accountability, and it speaks to rampant corruption.

Furthermore, given the apparent lack of action regarding the Council motion of September 2020 for "an external investigation into all issues regarding concerns about possible racism raised at Council level... to be initiated within one month", I would like to lodge an additional complaint regarding what I consider to be racist, transphobic and ableist behaviour by Stephen Walsh, Jenifer Vinell, David Gore, and Menna Jones specifically, within their various roles for The Vegan Society. This includes:

  1. Stephen Walsh's comments regarding The Vegan Society's refusal to support a post on its own blog about how a consistent anti-oppressive approach (including anti-racism) helps both nonhuman animals and humans.
     
  2. David Gore's comments regarding The Vegan Society's refusal to support a post on its own blog about how a consistent anti-oppressive approach (including anti-racism) helps both nonhuman animals and humans.
     
  3. David Gore's use of the n-word in his first conversation with the society's only Black trustee.
     
  4. David Gore's denial of the existence/impact of systemic racism, sexism and transphobia (i.e. "I refute the claim that CIS, white, males are born with an inherent advantage over non-white, non-CIS, non-males.")
     
  5. David Gore's description of concerns from a vegan Woman of Colour about ways in which The Vegan Society centres whiteness as "race based hate" and "bigotry of the highest order".
     
  6. As Chair, Menna Jones' expression of support for comments such as the above (and condemnation for those that challenged them).
     
  7. As Chair, Menna Jones' unilateral rulings regarding what is and isn't racist (speaking over the society's only Black trustee at the time).
     
  8. As Chair, Menna Jones' unilateral rulings regarding complaints about the society's only Black, non-binary trustee.
     
  9. As Chair, Menna Jones' unilateral rejection of complaints about racism (even those against herself!)
     
  10. As Chair, Menna Jones' protection of the identities of those making apparently identity-related complaints about the society's only Black, non-binary trustee.
     
  11. As Chair, Menna Jones' specific policing of the society's only Black, non-binary trustee's language, social media, and even clothing (and other micro-aggressions).
     
  12. As Chair, Menna Jones' attempt to co-opt the society's only Black trustee's proposal on anti-racism, without even the most basic decency (let alone the professional courtesy) to discuss it with them first.
     
  13. As Chair, Stephen Walsh using the term "Blacks"
     
  14. As Chair, Stephen Walsh stating that a Black anti-racism trainer referencing a hierarchy of racism "decisively undermined their claim to be an expert in anti-racism" - despite illustration of his own ignorance (such as above, and regarding the meaning of "POC").
     
  15. As Chair, Stephen Walsh minimising the professional experience of another Black trustee.
     
  16. As Chair, Stephen Walsh failing to implement the Council resolution of June 2020 to "For all members of the council to participate as a group in anti-racism training... within 6 months either in person or online [with] an appropriate trainer to be decided upon and booked within the next 3 months..." (Notably Stephen Walsh and Jenifer Vinell both abstained on this motion, and voted against additional diversity training.)
     
  17. As Chair, Stephen Walsh failing to act on the Council resolution of September 2020 to instigate "an external investigation into all issues regarding concerns about possible racism raised at Council level... to be initiated within one month".
     
  18. Stephen Walsh further delaying the above investigation by repeatedly quibbling over the Black investigator's remit, scope, terms, and confidentiality - and vetoing motions to approve them.
     
  19. Stephen Walsh and Menna Jones attempting to bring an AGM motion to condemn the Black Vice-Chair before the corresponding investigation into them had concluded (and ultimately rejecting their perspective).
     
  20. Stephen Walsh and Jenifer Vinell attempting to bring a Council motion to condemn the Black Vice-Chair before the corresponding investigation into them had concluded (and ultimately rejecting their perspective).
     
  21. As Vice-Chair, Jenifer Vinell sarcastically asking whether Council would be diverse enough if it were all Black.
     
  22. Jenifer Vinell stating during our anti-racism training that that Black African nations attack one another on the basis of Black on Black racism.
     
  23. David Gore rejecting intersectional theory during our anti-racism training.
     
  24. David Gore accusing those who amplify the voices of leftist Jews, or who mention the opinions of UN human rights experts, as "antisemitic" - when such an accusation is based on a conflation of Zionism, Judaism and Israel (itself antisemitic!)
     
  25. David Gore rejecting attempts to challenge institutional oppression as "anti-white, misandrist, CIS-phobic prejudice".
     
  26. Stephen Walsh rejecting attempts to challenge institutional oppression as "attempting to move the society away from its core mission and objects in a reckless and potentially disastrous way without proper engagement with our members and pursuing identity politics internally in a destructive and divisive way".

Any corresponding investigation must also address trustees' and senior staff's complicity in:

  1. racially motivated complaints against a Black trustee - specifically including Stephen Walsh's collaborations with two complainants four days before each raised complaints, how complainants obtained confidential information, and breaches of the society's procedures and communications protocols
     
  2. delays into the handling of racially-motivated complaints against a Black trustee;
     
  3. specific monitoring of a Black trustees' social media by senior staff;
     
  4. the under-representation of People of Colour in The Vegan Society's communications (especially Black people of marginalised genders) as illustrated by a quantitative analysis of the society's magazine by sociologist Dr Corey Wrenn;
     
  5. the conflation of Black with BAME in a 2020 statement on BLM;
     
  6. the lack of meaningful action since the 2020 statement on BLM;
     
  7. the inconsistent handling of complaints against a Black trustee and against white trustees;
     
  8. the inconsistent handling of inaccuracies in the media;
     
  9. the creation of a hostile environment created for The Vegan Society's Black and multiply-marginalised) trustees;
     
  10. the inherent ableism in creating significant demands on trustees' time.

Finally, the investigation must also consider whether any members of The Vegan Society should be removed for their role in reinforcing institutional oppression within the racist campaign against the former Vice-Chair (for example, for bringing The Vegan Society into disrepute). These may include:

  • Tim Barford;
  • Brian Jacobs;
  • Isis Clegg-Vinell;
  • Vanessa Clarke;
  • any current or former trustees of the charity or directors of the trading subsidiary found to be complicit;
  • any current or former staff or volunteers found to be complicit.

I would like to say that I "expect" this complaint to be treated with the same seriousness as the complaints against Eshe and myself. However, the experience with my previous complaint has demonstrated a two-tier complaints system, apparently determined by complainants' relationships to certain trustees. This is clearly unacceptable, and should be a grave concern for the Charity Commission (CCed).

On 20 September, I requested a further addition.

One week after Tim Barford made complaints of racism against the Black former Vice-Chair and myself (as former Chair), The Vegan Society had assured Barford of an independent investigation. (Notably, such complaints were subsequently shown to be evidence of Barford's racism, rather than the Vice-Chair's.)

However, more than one week after I made complaints of racism against three white trustees (including the current Chair), I have received no such assurance.

I maintain that this inconsistency is yet another example of trustees' racism, transphobia, ableism, etc. (and indeed corruption).

Of course, I never received such assurances. As I understand it, nor did any other complainants.

Complaint 3: False Claims by Trustees

On 27 November, I raised a third complaint with The Vegan Society.

Salim Akbar's website bio states that he was a founder of London Vegan Meetup. As the current organiser of London Vegan Meetup, I have assurances from the sole founder (Cameron Green) that this is false. (Notably, this claim was also included in Salim's most recent candidate statement.)

I consider such dishonesty to be wholly inappropriate behaviour for a director of The Vegan Society.

A few days later, I was advised that "Salim’s biography has been amended now." However, I could see no difference, and emailed to say so. The response I received was that "the change is from ‘founder’ to ‘founding member’." I expressed that "That change is meaningless. The claim is still false, and the continued dishonesty outrageous." I have heard nothing further.

Response

As mentioned above, The Vegan Society chose Christmas Eve to reject all my complaints. Although these included the oldest known complaint, they received the latest response.

This response was in two parts – a covering email, and an attached letter. Both left very much to be desired – with the subcommittee misrepresenting complainants' arguments ("straw man"), and making accusations against former trustees in an apparent attempt to divert attention from current trustees failings ("tu quoque" / "ad hominem").

But most seriously, the subcommittee has simply failed to address many of the specific concerns, including some of the most serious – for example, trustees wilfully ignoring advice from both its own lawyers and the Charity Commission in order to prioritise their personal interests over those of the charity!

Email

Dear Robb,

Please find a response to your complaint. The Council apologises for the delay that has occurred in dealing with it.

After the departures, including your own, from Council in July 2021 it was felt important to co-opt new Trustees onto Council. Inevitably, this process took some weeks. By October all new co-optees were in place and at the October meeting of Council the complaints were formally delegated to a subcommittee comprising Trustees who could determine them from a position of neutrality.

We acknowledge that the delay has been frustrating, and we apologise for any distress that this has caused.

Yours,

Kamal Adatia     Christine Fraser     Paul Higgins     Donald Lee      Mellissa Morgan

Firstly, I have to reject the assertion that the subcommittee was comprised of "Trustees who could determine them from a position of neutrality". As mentioned above, four members of this subcommittee had been hand-selected by the accused trustees, with the fifth promoted and celebrated by the instigator of last year's malicious complaints.

Secondly, their comments about trustees' resignations proved to be an indication of their intention to blame trustees who resigned in the face of racism, bullying and corruption, rather than those who created such an environment.

And finally I cannot consider this apology to be genuine. Were it so, trustees would have undoubtedly provided similar assurances provided to previous complainants, provided interim updates (such as when the subcommittee had been appointed, taken less than 12 weeks to respond (especially as they did not appoint a third-party investigator), and avoided sending a rejection of all complaints in Christmas Eve! (Indeed, the arrival of The Vegan Society's response to my separate Subject Access Request on the very last day of their extended three-month timeframe suggests that they choose such dates to be as petty as possible.)

Letter

For accessibility, I have prefixed my comments with "RM" (as well as bolding them for environments where this is supported).

Dear Robb,

Thank you for your complaints (a) dated 6th June 2021, with some additional points added on 17th July and (b) dated 11th September 2021. Your complaint has been considered by a subcommittee, which comprises a majority of the Council, who were not trustees prior to the 2021 AGM and are not implicated by your allegations.

RM: Actually, I consider that they are implicated given their conflicts of interest and loyalty described above.

  1. Your June/July 2021 complaint re-states a claim made by you, whilst still a Trustee, that the named Trustees were conflicted and should have recused themselves from involvement in the QC-led investigation of complaints made against you and Eshe. You seek to prove this by a catalogue of accusations against so-called “un-recused Trustees”, ranging from complicity-by-association through to criminal behaviour.

    That investigation is now complete. It has been the subject of formal dissemination and comment by TVS, informal leaking by persons unknown and national press coverage. Trustees (including yourself) resigned en masse, and Council now includes a majority of Trustees who had no involvement whatsoever with Council as it was before the 2021 AGM. We have therefore sought an account from the “un-recused Trustees” regarding your accusations. These Trustees disputed the allegations in your complaint (many of which had been discussed by Council whilst you were still a member and in your presence).

    RM: I reject the description of the handling of this complaint as an "investigation", when neither complainants nor witnesses have been approached for evidence.

    As noted in an earlier Council response to the Charity Commission:

    All [investigation] committee members were Facebook friends with at least one subject of the complaints. Salim Akbar and Joel Bravette are also Facebook friends with at least one complainant. This level of inter-connection is unexceptional among vegan activists actively involved with The Vegan Society.

    RM: This is irrelevant. I had not even mentioned that Facebook friendships in my complaint (let alone suggested that these created the conflicts of interest or loyalty).

    Relatively distant “friendships” were not seen as a barrier even for the Investigations Committee (IC) who had the greatest influence on the complaints process.

    RM: The relationships concerned cannot legitimately be considered "distant" when:
     
    1. one complainant was the daughter of a trustee (i.e. the former Vice-Chair, now Vice-Chair again);
    2. the investigation showed that another complainant was partly motivated by "friendships with individuals who were displaced from leadership positions by the election of EKZ as Vice Chair";
    3. the investigating QC expressed that the same complainant "had professional and personal relationships with members of Council who had been displaced by the arrival of RM and EKZ as Chair and Vice Chair. He has significant business interests which benefit from retaining access to and influence over Council";
    4. the same complainant described several trustees as his "pals".

    Jenifer agreed to withdraw from any matters that specifically involved her daughter once it became known that a belated complaint from her daughter had been considered by the QC despite not being in the agreed terms of reference. Her daughter’s addition to the complaints came well after the main complaints in December, and was therefore completely irrelevant to the decisions leading up to delegating the complaints process to an Investigations Committee.

    RM: Unlike this subcommittee, I find it unlikely that Jenifer was unaware that her daughter was one of the complainants before this was more widely known. Nevertheless, I consider that she should have removed herself completely once this was revealed. Her failure to recuse herself from the consideration of complaints made by her own daughter was a clear conflict of interest and loyalty that compromised the complaints procedure.

    In relation to questionable conflicts of interest, we note that you and Eshe voted to determine who would consult lawyers about the complaints against you and who would chair discussions of these complaints. Soon after the publication of the report you sought to prevent the Trustees who had been dealing with the complaints continuing to do so by withdrawing your recusal from the complaints process and insisting upon Eshe being copied in on or attending all subsequent discussions. Indeed, you chaired all subsequent discussions of the complaints.

    RM: As well as an attempt by the subcommittee to turn accusations around on complainants (rather than addressing them), this is a gross distortion of the facts. We did not vote to "determine who would consult lawyers about the complaints against you and who would chair discussions of these complaints", we voted to say that the Council Secretary could deputise for Chair and Vice-Chair when Chair and Vice-Chair were both unavailable. This should have been uncontroversial as the Council Secretary was both the obvious choice and the only unanimously elected officer. However, it was strongly opposed by those apparently seeking to undermine the democratically elected leadership in order to pursue their own personal agenda.

    The timing of the various complaints, far from being an extraordinary coincidence, flowed straightforwardly from your appointment as Chair and Eshe’s as Vice-Chair, which were announced on the Society's website almost immediately after the November meeting, were referred to in other social media posts, and were not in any way confidential. These appointments clearly triggered Tim's complaints and Tim's complaints and related social media comments triggered (or re-triggered) other complaints shortly afterwards.

    RM: The claim that "These appointments clearly triggered Tim's complaints and…other complaints shortly afterwards" is not supported by the evidence. Complaints from Tim Barford and Brian Jacobs arrived just four days after each complainant had collaborated with Stephen Walsh (who had lost the Chair role as a result of my election), but four weeks after our election. Furthermore, even if this was a coincidence, it should have been reason enough for Stephen Walsh to recuse himself to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.

    All conflicts of interest were managed in the usual way at the time with Trustees acting according to their individual judgement unless Council chose to vote to give direction. None of the responsible Council officers (now all resigned) chose to take your complaint any further at the time and no Council votes were proposed or taken on the alleged conflicts of interest in your complaint.

    RM: The "usual way" is that trustees declare any potential conflict of interest or loyalty, and recuse themselves. In this case, trustees denied such conflicts, and refused to recuse themselves. This was a breach of their legal obligations under articles 8 and 9 of The Vegan Society's Memorandum and Articles of Association.

    Stephen was approached by the CEO about the handling of the complaints because of Stephen’s experience gained as former Chair of Council. Given that you, as Chair, were one of the people who was complained about and the other was the Vice-Chair, it is understandable why the CEO would have sought Stephen’s advice, which Stephen then reported to Council. This does not breach any policy on Trustee communications. Whilst the Chair is the primary channel of communication for the CEO they are not the only one, especially in circumstances where the Chair is the subject of the complaint being discussed

    David, as Treasurer, had regular conversations with SMT members about a range of things, and would be duty bound to discuss those matters which might affect the income or productivity of the Society, or the best interests of the Society more generally. You have failed to cite a specific example of a breach of the communications policy.

    RM: My complaint does not concern the behaviour of the former CEO. My understanding is that Stephen Walsh had contacted one or more members of the Senior Management Team before any approach from the CEO; and that David Gore's approach came after a Council vote that explicitly denied him permission to liaise with the Senior Management Team on this matter. Had the latter approach been legitimate, it would not have been rejected by the Interim CEO. As a trustee, I was repeatedly advised by former Chairs (including Stephen Walsh) that trustees were not to contact staff directly. Stephen's and David's behaviour contravenes such a policy. The subcommittee should be able to identify breaches of communications policy (or ask for clarification) rather than simply rejecting complaints.

    The key votes to set up an Investigations Committee with an initial budget and later to increase its budget at its request to pay for the external investigation the committee had decided upon were each taken with no dissent (seven votes for and one No Vote) so any possible conflicts of interest could not alter the result.

    RM: This is patently false. The involvement of trustees with conflicts of interest and loyalty in discussions leading up to a vote can clearly influence how others vote.

    While you expressed concerns about a possible miscarriage of justice when you submitted your earlier complaint, you appear to have been content with the actual report produced. The process was not distorted to the detriment of the subjects of the complaint – you and Eshe.

    RM: I expressed at the time that the report was not everything that I'd like to have seen, but I was prepared to accept it. The failure of other trustees to do similarly led to them seeking to reject it in its entirety or in part (and seek other ways to condemn the accused trustees), to reject recommendations from The Vegan Society's communications agency, and to reject any expression of support for the exonerated trustees. This was clearly to the detriment of the subjects of the complaint, and contributed to our resignations (and those of three other trustees) shortly afterwards.

    While the external investigation route was consistently supported by Ali Ryland, Michele Fox and Sally Anderson, those current trustees who were part of that discussion argued for alternative approaches at less cost to the Society: testing the quality of evidence on matters of disputed fact before going further and putting matters of principle to the members. In the end the arguments for an external investigation prevailed. The current Trustees are keen to avoid such expensive external investigations which detract from our charitable activities if at all possible.

    RM: There is undoubtedly an appropriate middle-ground between an expensive investigation by an impartial QC, and a whitewash by compromised trustees.

    You added some additional points on 17th July, which are addressed below:

    No minutes of the discussion of the complaints by the un-recused Trustees have been published on the members-only area of our website as these discussions remain confidential from other members including you and Eshe.

    RM: I consider this a breach of article 60 of The Vegan Society's Memorandum and Articles of Association. If these were legitimate Council meeting, minutes must be published (with confidential portions removed); if they were not legitimate Council meetings, they had no decision-making authority.

    In some cases your additional allegations about illegality of the Serious Incident Report seem to simply reflect a misreading of the report. In others they seem to simply be matters of debatable opinion. For example

    The incident actually started on or around 16 December 2020 (more than a month earlier than claimed), and the charity also became aware of the incident on or around 16 December 2020 (again, more than a month earlier than claimed). I understand this is a criminal offence under section 60 of the Charities Act 2011.

    The starting date given in the Serious Incident Report is actually 20 January 2020 (almost a year before the December complaints). This was the date of a previous complaint by one of the December complainants and the report explicitly explains that this is why that date was selected.

    RM: If this is so, I consider that I was unlawfully excluded from considering that complaint (as I understand that it was not against me). I had not recused myself from the consideration of any complaints against any other trustees prior to December 2020.

    The Serious Incident Report omitted that the complainant had been making a series of public allegations on social media (Facebook and YouTube) in addition to his complaint that seem more likely to cause harm to the charity than the complaint itself.

    The SIR actually states: "This complaint, which included allegations of racism and malicious behaviour, was also shared in a public Facebook group, encouraging others to contact The Vegan Society."

    RM: Merely stating the complaint "was also shared in a public Facebook group" without even identifying who shared it, significantly misrepresents the many public posts (and lengthy YouTube video) by at least one complainant.

    Your other comments fall in the grey area of how much detail to submit in a particular context. This is not a matter of legality but of judgment and reasonable judgments can differ. The judgment in this case was taken collectively by all trustees other than the subjects of the complaint.

    RM: Then my complaint stands against all such trustees who are still trustees of The Vegan Society.

    As regards confidentiality, we note that you are publishing confidential material on Twitter and that you publicly promoted access to the leaked report which you knew to be highly confidential and not drafted so as to allow for wider publication. We remind you that your duty of confidentiality as a trustee continues after resignation.

    RM: When Council seeks to remind former trustees of their obligations regarding confidentiality, they invariably omit an important part of this obligation – which I would like to reiterate to current trustees: "I will respect the Vegan Society, directors’ and individual confidentiality, while never using confidentiality as an excuse not to disclose matters that should be transparent and open." It is my opinion that current trustees continually use confidentiality as an excuse to avoid transparency and accountability, and I am therefore entitled (even obliged) to disclose such matters – especially when Council passed a motion to release a suitably redacted version of the full report, only for current trustees to reverse this.

    We bear in mind that the commissioning of the QC report and the handling of the QC investigation was largely in the hands/control of the Trustees who were allies of yourself, and who have since resigned with you.

    RM: The group of so-called unrecused trustees contained four members who had supported my election as Chair, and four who did not. So it's wholly false to claim that this this was in the hands of my "allies". It's also extremely unhelpful to cast trustees as "allies" based on who they voted for in the previous election of officers. Trustees' voting records should readily dispute the idea that we were of one mind, or that "allies" had made up their mind about complaints beforehand.

    The six Trustees who appear on the V4TM website were in the majority on Council from August 15th 2020 until May 22nd 2021 and from November 23rd held the positions of: Chair, Vice-Chair, Company Secretary, Council Secretary, Deputy Company Secretary, Deputy Council Secretary and Sustainability Champion. There was also the Investigation sub-Committee (IC) that was made up of three Trustees drawn from the eight Trustees not being investigated by the QC. Two of the three appear on the V4TM website leaving them again with the majority.

    RM: While the majority of trustees did support my election as Chair (and Eshe's as Vice-Chair), Council's democracy was overturned by malicious complaints against us, forcing us to recuse ourselves. Nevertheless, I must reiterate that "I do not consider that 'Vegan 4 the Many' falls foul of the same principle, as it merely includes those about whom public accusations and insinuations had been made, and we should not allow unsubstantiated allegations by one or two members to define who's in or out of any supposed 'group' on Council."

    The subcommittee are clear that it is not in the interests of the Society to commission an external investigation into your complaints about the conduct of Trustees regarding decision-making on the complaints about you and Eshe. Neither do we consider it to be practicable or desirable to revisit historical disputes among Trustees .If the Charity Commission (to whom you have copied your complaints) wish to seek their own account of matters from the current Council we will oblige.

    RM: I cannot agree that it is not in the society's interests to address certain trustees' attempt to maintain absolute control over the society – for their own interests, and those of their friends and family, and at the expense of vegans and potential vegans (i.e. everyone else!) especially those from marginalised groups (let alone non-human animals themselves). But it is clearly not in the interests of the compromised trustees, on whose behalf this subcommittee is apparently working.
     
  2. In your complaint from September 2021 you allege “racist, transphobic and ableist behaviour by Stephen Walsh, Jenifer Vinell, David Gore, and Menna Jones specifically, within their various roles for The Vegan Society” and go on to list a number of comments or acts or omissions as evidence thereof.

    Complaints about former Trustees, or staff, or ordinary Society members do not fall within the remit of this subcommittee.

    RM: If certain complaints "do not fall within the remit of this subcommittee", then another means must be employed to investigate them – particularly where they relate to current staff, or current directors of the trading subsidiary. Complaints that have been deliberately excluded from the remit of this subcommittee cannot be considered resolved.

    Many of your remaining complaints, including those of “quibbling” and “sarcasm”, concern the perfectly ordinary, if undesirable, side-effects of profound political differences, for which no racist, transphobic, or ableist motivation is required or demonstrated. It has been openly acknowledged and regretted that the board was frequently dysfunctional at this time. The complaints process is not intended to air relatively trivial issues or to re-rehearse legitimate differences of ideology.

    RM: It is beyond disappointing that the subcommittee considers oppressive behaviour to be "trivial" and oppressive views to be "legitimate". Trustees should also be aware that oppressive behaviour can occur as a result of unconscious bias even where there is no demonstrable motivation.

    We have asked those remaining Trustees to comment on other allegations in your list and we have reviewed those allegations in the light of their responses below:
     
    • Your assertion about David’s use of the ‘n’ word is a very serious allegation made without any evidence whatsoever. If you have cogent evidence of it then we are confident that you will be keen to furnish the Society with it. As it stands, it is unreferenced by time or place and has not been repeated by the Trustee to whom you allege it was said.

      RM: It is a very serious accusation. That's why it's so disappointing that the subcommittee has rejected it out of hand without interviewing the complainant, the trustees to whom it was said, or any other witnesses – or even asking for details of when and where this happened. Of course, it's usually impossible to prove that a previous statement has been made, unless anyone makes a recording of all their conversations (and I know I don't!) But it's also objectively false to say that this "has not been repeated by the Trustee to whom you allege it was said", as they put it in their resignation letter. (Note that this also identifies the date and time, from which the location can also be inferred.)
       
    • You have misrepresented in your complaint the discussion that took place over the posting from a Woman of Colour in which she said “White veganism does not belong on Mare St”. There was disagreement at the time as to whether "white veganism" (the phrase in complaint) should be equated with "white vegans" as opposed to "veganism that centres whiteness - for example, reinforcing colonialist ideology". The former may amount to bigotry, the latter not. It was suggested clarification be sought from the complainant as to what they meant. David then responded "I think Stephen’s suggestion to seek clarity on the meaning from the correspondent is a good one and would remove the occasion for a common interpretation/misinterpretation of what I found to be a very bold statement, in an disjointed email, against a whole group of people based on what I understood to be their colour/race. I will therefore withdraw and withhold my final conclusions until we hear more. If it becomes clear there was no hate speech or discrimination meant in the original message from the person concerned I will apologise for my statement." Council never did receive clarification from the complainant.

      RM: No, the subcommittee has misrepresented this conversation. Below is the context for the use of such terms.
       

      Hi all,

      At the last council meeting, I promised to share the comments from a vegan of colour, and founder of a vegan non-profit community organisation, who had expressed their discontent with the society's joint pop-up with Veganuary. While I was unable to confirm to Council whether or not they are a member, in hindsight I'm not convinced that this matters:

      • If they are a member, we should undoubtedly take their concerns seriously.
      • If they are not a member, we should recognise how our activities can alienate vegans from marginalised groups.
         

      Their comments were as follows:

      This is legit problematic: doing this on Mare Street of all places ... dishing out community engagement grants would have been a better use of money. Oh my gawd, how did this get thru? https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=3D10158278451= 723646&id=3D9999613645

      White veganism does not belong on Mare Street. There's the concern. Go preach elsewhere. Can operational team take unconscious bias training? I can put up with a lot of crap over the veganuary month but that is just taking it a little bit too far. Can you feed that back?

      Hackney has other concerns. Pop up for the planet ... you what?!! Amazing how this was not spotted.

      The other day I wondered what has TVS done for diversity, and then this !!! I was trying hard to think of some change beyond the walls of the society

      Part of the problem is that they are too far removed. Especially where they are based. If for example they knew London they would get the problem of coming to Mare Street. It is not the birth place of temple of hackney. It is an area that has suffered most greatly and still is. From being the dumping ground, the few place where lodgings could be sort to the present day where do I belong of young BME people and gentrification. It's a lot of labour to ask more "progressive" people to tackle this institutional type of white veganism. I think at some point you'll see that. TVS is a money making society. A very clever one at that. I'm sure it started with good intentions.
      I'm not sure that I'm the best person to explain "white veganism" to Council. However, my understanding is that, rather than being veganism that is specifically practised by white people, it is veganism that centres whiteness - for example, reinforcing colonialist ideology (i.e. "white Westerners know best"). In this case, that would mean ignoring the broader context of Hackney's history and demographics.

      For more information, I'd suggest:


      I've previously recommend "Aphro-ism: Essays on Pop Culture, Feminism, and Black Veganism from Two Sisters" by Aph Ko and Syl Ko to council, and would recommend this for SMT/staff too. (Currently on offer at Blackwell's.)

      For more information on the dangers of health-based vegan advocacy, I'd also suggest the following podcast:


      Since there was no response at the January council meeting, the March council meeting should include such a response so that it can be minuted for the reading of these concerns in the January minutes (and passed on to the complainant).

      Regards,

      Robb

      RM: Note that this initial email clarified the nature of the term "white veganism" in this context.
       
      Hello All,

      I've been reflecting on what was read out at the last council meeting re the Veganuary pop-up in Mare Street. As it happens, Hackney have a good archive that contains many photos of the area over a long period of history.
      If I type into the search box, then select 'Image Collection' I get a load of images stretching back for almost 200 years. Take a look at some of the shots with crowds in them and draw your own conclusions about the history of Hackney.
      https://hackney.soutron.net/Portal/Default/en-GB/Search/SimpleSearch

      Yours,

      David H Gore

      Hi all,

      I can hardly think of a better illustration of the problem than a white person suggesting that their online search tells us more about the lived experiences of People of Colour in an area than the actual lived experiences of People Of Colour in that area.

      I am always disappointed, but rarely surprised, by the lengths that certain trustees will go to in order to dismiss the experiences of members of marginalised groups, and deny the impact, examples, or even existence of oppressions that they do not personally experience.

      Regards,

      Robb


      Robb,

      The version of history your correspondant seeks to present is not borne out by the evidence. By claiming otherwise they are actually ignoring Hackney's past themselves.

      Also, saying that white vegans should not be on Mare Street is bigotry of the highest order and should not be tolerated. I am hugely disappointed that you would seek to amplify race based hate in this way. What would our members think?

      As for diversity at TVS, please show them the results from the survey we undertook just recently. It is clear from that the TVS is ahead of the game here as well.

      Yours,

      David H Gore

      Note that no-one claimed that "white vegans should not be on Mare Street", yet David Gore described the legitimate concerns of a vegan Woman of Colour as "race based hate".
       
    • Stephen’s use of the word “Blacks” was in the context of an exchange in which he was responding to negative stereotyping of a Pakistani Muslim colleague, as “a person with a closer proximity to whiteness and power privileges”. He was responding with evidence that people identifying with Pakistani and Black ethnicity within the UK were comparably under-privileged (based on the deprivation levels of the areas in which they lived). He apologised directly to you for the use of the shorthand term “Blacks and Pakistanis” when you raised it with him. It is obvious that the term was not deliberately employed in an offensive way.

      RM: The context is an irrelevant distraction. The term is unacceptable, and indicative of institutional racism (if not personal prejudice). Furthermore, it is not to me that Stephen Walsh owes an apology, but such an apology would undoubtedly prove insincere in the absence of changed behaviour.
       
    • Your allegation about the delay in implementing anti-racism training is without merit. The period spanning the Council resolution and the delivery of the training was one in which there were four chairs of Council (MJ, JV, SW and yourself) and there were disagreements about the training being commissioned. Reasonable endeavours were made by SW to identify a trainer and secure the agreement of Council as to the type of training required, which eventually took place in February 2021.

      RM: The claim that this is "without merit" is not supported by the facts. Two former Chairs failed to complete this action within the prescribed timeframe. And while the investigation was not completed during my tenure either, I consider this to be the result of deliberate obstruction by one of those former Chairs and one other trustee – both of whom feared its conclusions.
       
      • On 25 April 2020, Eshe Kiama Zuri shared two proposals on anti-racism training with Council. Stephen Walsh very quickly expressed his objections (28 April). However, they were put a vote at the Council meeting of 13 June 2020:
         
        • Proposal 1: For all members of the council to participate as a group in anti-racism training (either half or full day depending on the trainer) within 6 months either in person or online. For an appropriate trainer to be decided upon and booked within the next 3 months using this time and the information that I (Eshe Kiama Zuri) have provided above to follow up on rates from those we have not yet received rates for.

          Proposer:  Eshe Kiama Zuri
          Seconder:  Robb asters
          Votes for:  Ali Ryland, David Gore, Eshe Kiama Zuri, Graham Neale, Menna Jones (Chair), Robb Masters, Salim Akbar
          Votes against:  None
          Abstentions:  Stephen Walsh (Treasurer), Jenifer Vinell (Vice-Chair)
          Result: Passed
        • Proposal 2: For dates for additional training to be booked within 12 months in person or online.

          Proposer:  Eshe Kiama Zuri
          Seconder:  Robb Masters
          Votes for:  Ali Ryland, David Gore, Eshe Kiama Zuri, Graham Neale, Menna Jones (Chair), Robb Masters, Salim Akbar
          Votes against:  Stephen Walsh (Treasurer), Jenifer Vinell (Vice-Chair)
          Abstentions:  None
          Result: Passed

          Note that Stephen Walsh and Jenifer Vinell were the only trustees not to support either proposal.
           
      • On 15 July, Menna Jones resigned as Chair (with Vice-Chair Jenifer Vinell acting as Chair by default). Now almost three months after the motion had passed, some possible providers had been identified by Council, but none had yet been selected.
         
      • On 28 July, Stephen Walsh was elected as Chair.
         
      • On 12 September, Council unanimously passed a proposal "To select Challenge Consultancy to provide the initial diversity training", with the Chair commenting that "it is apparent that we need another round of discussion and a fresh decision before we can proceed with booking training".
         
      • On 7 October, a proposal to define that training failed, with around half of Council being of the opinion that it did not fulfil the previous resolution and/or was overly restrictive.
         
        • That we take Challenge Consultancy's standard Race Awareness Training module as a starting point and ask them to customise this to include an introduction to the differences between structural, institutional and individual racism as part of an initial half-day training session. That we ask them to deliver this training as they see fit, without any more detailed briefing and without any contact between the trainer and individual trustees unless the trainer requests this.
           
          Votes for:  David Gore, Jenifer Vinell, Salim Akbar, Sally Anderson, Stephen Walsh
          Votes against:  Ali Ryland, Eshe Kiama Zuri, Joel Bravette, Michele Fox, Robb Masters
          Abstentions:  None
          Result: Failed

          (As an "e-vote", there was no formal proposal or seconder.)

          It should be noted that the proposer and seconder of the original motion did not support this one, while those who did not support the previous one, did support this one. This should illustrate how this proposal failed to address the scope of the original.
           
      • On 23 November, I was elected as Chair. At the same Council meeting, trustees unanimously approved the scope of training.
         
        • Proposal 2: For dates for additional training to be booked within 12 months in person or online.

          Proposer:  Joel Bravette
          Seconder:  Eshe Kiama Zuri
          Votes for:  Unanimous
          Votes against:  None
          Abstentions:  None
          Result: Passed

          (A subsequent vote also led to the inclusion of the Senior Management Team in this training).
           
        With seven months having now passed since the proposal was approved (and four since the election of the previous Chair), such training had still not yet been booked. Therefore, I made this one of my immediate priorities.
         
      • On 2 December, I opened a "poll" for trustees to indicate their availability. On 5 January, I advised Council that training had now been booked. And on 2 February, the training was completed by all trustees and all members of the Senior Management Team.
         
      Just over two months after my election, the training had completed. This clearly demonstrated to me how the delays to date had been unnecessary, and seemingly the result of distortion and obstruction by those who did not support the original motion.

      Note also that the second tranche of training, due for completion by 25 April 2021, still does not appear to have been undertaken…
       
    • Your allegation about a failure to instigate an external investigation into possible racism is without merit. Stephen contacted the suggested organisation Charity So White who were reluctant to act and arguably were conflicted by their association with Eshe Kiama Zuri. You became Chair two months after the resolution and you failed to remark in your complaint that this investigation had still not taken place by the end of your own tenure as Chair, eight months later.

      RM: As above, the claim that this is "without merit" is not supported by the facts. Firstly, Eshe Kiama Zuri disclosed their connection to CharitySoWhite when putting them forward as a potential supplier, but a majority of trustees was happy with their consideration. Secondly, the resolution did not specify that CharitySoWhite should conduct the investigation; therefore, their inability to do so was immaterial. While the investigation was not completed during my tenure either, I again consider this to be the result of obstruction by trustees who feared its conclusions.
       
      • On 19 September 2020, Council considered two motions to address various concerns that a number of trustees had raised about both interpersonal and institutional racism. (Both were redacted from the public minutes.)
         
        • That Council approves an external investigation into all issues regarding concerns about possible racism raised at Council level, including any internal issues, to be initiated within one month unless Council and SMT agree that this is no longer needed. As part of this, that we speak to Charity So White to provide information about the differences between institutional and individual racism and speak to them about an appropriate and thorough external investigation into the Society.

          Proposer:  Eshe Kiama Zuri
          Seconder:  Joel Bravette
          Votes for:  Ali Ryland, Eshe Kiama Zuri, Joel Bravette, Michele Fox, Robb Masters, Salim Akbar, Sally Anderson, Stephen Walsh
          Votes against:  None
          Abstentions:  David Gore, Jenifer Vinell
          Result: Passed
        • That Council approves an immediate investigation by Clover HR into all issues regarding racism allegations raised at Council and Trustee level, including any internal issues, with a budget of up to £4,500 plus VAT, and asks all relevant staff and trustees to cooperate fully with that investigation.

          Proposer:  David Gore
          Seconder:  Jenifer Vinell
          Votes for:  David Gore, Jenifer Vinell, Salim Akbar, Stephen Walsh
          Votes against:  Ali Ryland, Eshe Kiama Zuri, Joel Bravette, Michele Fox, Robb Masters, Sally Anderson
          Abstentions:  None
          Result: Failed

          Note that (much as with the anti-racism training) those who did not support the original motion attempted to subsequently override it with a weaker alternative.
           
      • On 23 November, I was elected as Chair. Like the anti-racism training above, this racism investigation had not been completed by the previous Chair (Stephen Walsh) within the prescribed timeframe. Therefore, this became another of my top priorities – in addition to other time-sensitive matters such as the transition to a new (Interim) CEO, and preparation for the upcoming AGM.
         
      • Once the delayed anti-racism training had been completed (2 February), I drafted a paper for Council outlining possible providers for the racism investigation (including previous suggestions, and consultants that had recently been involved in similar cases).
         
      • At the next Council meeting (21 March), trustees considered a motion to progress this investigation.
         
        • That Council engages Diverse Matters to conduct an external investigation, to start after the conclusion of the ongoing investigation, into all issues regarding concerns about possible racism raised at Council level, including any internal issues, and to ask Diverse Matters to include definitions of institutional and individual racism (as long as this can be included within the approved budget).
           
          Proposer:  Robb Masters
          Seconder:  Michele Fox
          Votes for:  Unanimous
          Votes against:  None
          Abstentions:  None
          Result: Passed

          The final wording of the motion above was the result of a series of amendments – one of which (proposed by Stephen Walsh) delayed the start of this investigation (until the conclusion of the previous investigation).
           
      • At the following Council meeting (17 April), trustees considered a motion to move forwards immediately (since the "ongoing investigation" showed no signs of being completed "until May or later").
         
        • That the Council proceeds to engage Diverse Matters to conduct an external investigation, to start as soon as possible and before the conclusion of the ongoing investigation, into all issues regarding concerns about possible racism raised at Council level, including any internal issues and to ask Diverse Matters to include definitions of institutional and individual racism (as long as this can be included within the approved budget.
           
          Proposer:  Michele Fox
          Seconder:  Eshe Kiama Zuri
          Votes for:  Ali Ryland, Eshe Kiama Zuri, Jenifer Vinell, Joel Bravette, Michele Fox, Robb Masters, Salim Akbar, Sally Anderson
          Votes against:  Stephen Walsh
          Abstentions:  David Gore
          Result: Passed

          Note that Stephen Walsh was again keen to delay this investigation.
           
      • On 17 May, I shared Diverse Matters' proposed scope with Council. This was met with a significant number of questions and comments from Stephen Walsh (only) that the investigator was expected to address before being commissioned.
         
      • Between 27 May and 22 June, I shared three potential Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) with Council – The Vegan Society's default NDA, Diverse Matters' default NDA, and a third-party NDA from NetLawman. Each was met with resistance from Stephen Walsh and/or David Gore (only).
         
      • On 11 July, Council concluded a number of "e-votes" to finalise the remit for Diverse Matters.
         
        • Motion 13: That Council approves the Diverse Matters scope as described in "20.1 Diverse Matters scope.docx".
           
          Deferred to next Council meeting  (expected to be September):  Stephen Walsh
           
        • Motion 14: That Council approves the Diverse Matters terms of engagement as specified in "20.2 Diverse Matters contract v2.docx".
           
          Deferred to next Council meeting  (expected to be September):  Stephen Walsh
           
        • Motion 15: That Council approved the Diverse Matters confidentiality agreement as specified in "20.3 Confidentiality agreement v0.2.docx".
           
          Votes for:  Ali Ryland, Jenifer Vinell, Michele Fox, Robb Masters, Salim Akbar, Sally Anderson, Stephen Walsh
          Votes against:  None
          No vote:  Eshe Kiama Zuri, Joel Bravette
          Result: Passed
           
      • On 15 July, I resigned from Council over what I considered to be institutional racism, bullying and corruption. Three other trustees did so the same day, with another having done so a week earlier.
         
      I consider that the above examples show a pattern of concerted effort by those trustees against whom complaints of racist behaviour had been made (and their allies) to frustrate and delay the corresponding investigation. I consider this to be one of the clearest examples of both institutional racism and conflicts of interest.
       
    • The AGM motion brought by Stephen and Menna (and the related Council motion by Stephen and Jenifer) was in these terms - “If any employee, trustee or official volunteer of The Vegan Society refers to an entire group of people defined by sex, gender, race or other protected characteristics as “garbage” or in any comparably contemptuous way, then The Vegan Society should condemn this behaviour and take action to prevent this from happening again.” It was patently not a motion designed to condemn anyone (of any colour) but to condemn a type of wholly unacceptable behaviour. This followed comments made publicly by the Eshe Kiama Zuri describing cis men as “actual garbage every single one”. The motion was an attempt to get the Society’s members to give direction on how complaints stemming from such comments should be resolved and has subsequently been endorsed in the revised Social Media Policy which states that “Comments referring to any group of people defined by sex, gender, race or other protected characteristics in a contemptuous or hostile way are unacceptable”. The QC led investigation did not reject this perspective as it did not consider either the general principle raised or the particular example given.

      RM: The statement by the subcommittee that this motion followed comments by Eshe Kiama Zuri (named in the proposal) demonstrate that this was a motion designed to condemn them. (They also illustrated the specific monitoring of a Black trustee's social media by trustees and senior staff.) However, as the only trustee denied visibility of the specific complaints about Eshe Kiama Zuri, I cannot confirm or deny whether this was included within them. Nevertheless, I would be very surprised to learn that it was not, given both the apparent concerns about it, and the QC's broad remit. Why would those trustees setting the scope of the investigation choose to exclude a comment about which they were so concerned – unless they anticipated that the QC's judgment would not be favourable to their agenda?

Our sincere efforts to establish whether there is substance to your complaints have not demonstrated any misconduct by the Trustees you have complained about. Your complaints are accordingly rejected.

Insofar as the QC recommended other changes to address the dysfunction that undoubtedly existed, the new Trust body has worked hard to prioritise and action a number of these in the last few months, and will continue to do so as we embark on a full external governance review

RM: Notably, I proposed a full governance review to Council in May – before this was recommended by the investigating QC or the Charity Commission. However, with so many other improvement initiatives, this was blocked when put to a vote (11 July) – now after this had been recommended by the investigating QC and the Charity Commission.

  • Motion 1: That Council commissions NCVO to carry out a "full-scale" governance review, allocating a budget of up to £12,000 (excluding VAT) as described in "12.1 Governance review v3.docx".
     
    Deferred to next Council meeting  (expected to be September):  David Gore

We wish you well in your efforts to promote veganism.

Yours,

Kamal Adatia     Christine Fraser     Paul Higgins     Donald Lee      Mellissa Morgan

RM: Current trustees and their allies have done everything within their power to undermine my "efforts to promote veganism" – specifically veganism that recognises the need to challenge other oppressions too. Therefore, I have to consider this as insincere as their apology.

Conclusions

From their responses, it seems clear that the subcommittee's objective was not to evaluate these complaints (and others) impartially or in good faith, but to reject them all regardless of the evidence. Therefore, I must conclude that ALL trustees of The Vegan Society are actively engaged in upholding corruption and institutional oppression (or at least complicit, whether via malice or gross incompetence) and ALL must be removed (whether by the society's members or the Charity Commission).

Any concerned parties contacting the Charity Commission might like to quote the following reference: TM/C-536447/RC.

Final Thoughts

While the email above (and another recent email) came from "ceo@vegansociety.com", I found it odd that they were not actually signed by the CEO (as all previous emails had been). I now realise that Louise Davies is the latest CEO to have been seen off under this oppressive clique of self-interested trustees – along with at least three other well-respected members of staff. Not to mention a considerable list of previous CEOs, staff, volunteers, and trustees (including at least two of what's believed to be only three Black trustees in the society's 77 year history), let alone the harm that current trustees have caused to the mental health of many more (surely a clear failure of their legal duty of care).

Undoubtedly, Louise's departure is a result of her own commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). Indeed, the commitment to DEI that The Vegan Society usually adds to job advertisements (and which had been strengthened under Louise's leadership) is noticeably absent from the advertisement for her replacement. Presumably, trustees are looking for someone to help reinforce their fiefdom, who won't be quick to challenge their oppressive behaviour, conflicts of interest and loyalty, or authoritarianism and to rush this through before they can be subjected to any accountability. (Maybe another "pal" of theirs who they can reward with a high-profile position.) Indeed, it's noteworthy that the malicious complaints against myself as Chair and Eshe Kiama Zuri as Vice-Chair came soon after the responsibility for recruiting a new CEO fell to trustees under Eshe Kiama Zuri's leadership, and the assumption that I would apply for the role. However, while I applied for the role last time around (2017), I can't imagine current trustees evaluating candidates fairly, or creating a welcoming environment for anyone who may challenge the hostile environment or oppressive status quo. Therefore, I can't see myself applying this time. Nevertheless, should trustees finally recognise that value of building a society that rejects the oppression of humans (e.g. child slaves, people living under military occupation, and members of all marginalised groups) as well as the exploitation of other animals, then they know where to find me…

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