Open letter to associates of VegfestUK, Yaoh, etc.

To whom it may concern,

The following quote is from an independent report commissioned by The Vegan Society into allegations made by Tim Barford (of VegfestUK, Yaoh, Global Vegfest, Forca Vegan and Plant Powered Planet) against the former Chair (myself) and former Vice-Chair (Eshe Kiama Zuri) of The Vegan Society's Board of Trustees ("Council").

  1. I consider that there are a number of mitigating factors. These include
    1. Tim Barford's 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’s identity and protected characteristics, to their stance on a number of political and ideological issues and to Tim Barford’s friendships with individuals who were displaced from leadership positions by the election of Eshe Kiama Zuri as Vice Chair.
    2. That Eshe Kiama Zuri was identified as a target for complaints by Tim Barford on social media. Tim Barford encouraged his followers and other individuals to search for adverse information on Eshe Kiama Zuri and to provide it to him and to complain to the Vegan Society.
  2. I do not consider it fair, proportionate or necessary for a formal sanction to be applied to Eshe Kiama Zuri.
  3. I do not uphold any of the complaints brought against Robb Masters.

Ijeoma Omambala QC

While I'd encourage you to read the full Investigation Report (not just the Executive Summary published by The Vegan Society), I believe that the above extract clearly demonstrates that Tim Barford co-ordinated a bigoted bullying campaign against a young, Black, disabled, non-binary trustee of The Vegan Society (and anyone he perceived to be their ally).

The unpleasantness triggered by Barford's unsubstantiated and apparently malicious complaints put the accused under significant strain for more than six months. And more than a year later, I am still receiving medical treatment for the impact that this had on my own health. Furthermore, the handling of Barford's complaint cost The Vegan Society over £40,000, and culminated in the resignations of five trustees (including all Black trustees) in protest at institutional racism, bullying and corruption – and seems to have also contributed to the subsequent resignations of the CEO, several other well-respected members of staff, at least one member of the Research Advisory Committee, and various other members of the society.

However, it appears that Barford has been protected from any accountability by those with whom he has professional and personal relationships. As Ms Omambala wrote in her report:

  1. I note that at the material time Tim Barford had professional and personal relationships with members of Council who had been displaced by the arrival of Robb Masters and Eshe Kiama Zuri as Chair and Vice Chair. He has significant business interests which benefit from retaining access to and influence over Council.

Notably, friends and family members of the "displaced" Chair and Vice-Chair (Stephen Walsh and Jenifer Vinell) supported (or otherwise enabled) Barford's campaign – with Vinell's daughter even becoming a subsequent complainant. Yet both Walsh and Vinell refused to recuse themselves from the investigation. And having contributed significantly to the environment from which five trustees felt compelled to resign, Walsh and Vinell have now retaken the roles of Chair and Vice-Chair.

I might expect such behaviour from those (such as the current trustees of The Vegan Society) who respond to initiatives for greater Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) with accusations of "race based hate" 1, "bigotry of the highest order" 1, "anti-white, misandrist, CIS-phobic prejudice" 1, "pursuing identity politics in a destructive and divisive way" 1, or "weaponisation of the intersectional framework" 2 – and who deny "that CIS, white, males are born with an inherent advantage" 1 or snidely ask "would an all-Black Council be diverse enough?" 3 However, I am especially disappointed by those who would normally speak out against oppressive behaviour (for example, those who profess to be "intersectional" or to support "Total Liberation", even some who share one or more of Eshe Kiama Zuri’s protected characteristics) yet who have supported Barford's campaign – whether to protect their access to Barford's platforms, or on the basis of their own "profound personal animosity"; and whether because of challenges to their own complicity in oppression, or because they have bought into the smears spread by others whose complicity in oppression has been challenged.

I do not accept that either a desire for access to resources or a dislike for an individual are grounds for supporting (or ignoring) oppressive behaviour. Therefore, where I have not already done so, I am disassociating myself from all those who I consider have enabled (or continue to enable) Barford's behaviour. This includes (but is not limited to) the following:

  • all current trustees of The Vegan Society, as well as The Vegan Society per se
    (I have already resigned my membership, and will be seeking alternatives to products bearing their trademark)
  • exhibitors and speakers at VegfestUK or Global Vegfest
  • sponsors and attendees of VegfestUK or Global Vegfest
  • nominees and winners of VegfestUK or Global Vegfest awards
  • contributors to Forca Vegan or Plant Powered Planet
  • advertisers in Forca Vegan or Plant Powered Planet
  • stockists and customers of Yaoh
  • Plant Based News
  • London Vegans (not to be confused with London Vegan Meetup)
  • any others who have repeated, shared or otherwise supported Barford's accusations.

If you find yourself on the list above, or engaged with those on the list above, I encourage you to consider whether you believe bigotry and bullying should be accommodated or challenged, and to act accordingly. I will undoubtedly be happy to welcome back any that disassociate themselves from Barford, his campaign, and his organisations (and address any complicity of their own). But until then, we part ways.

I would also welcome retraction, reflection and restitution from Barford and his allies (although I cannot speak for others). However, I instead anticipate retaliation by way of another campaign of disinformation, including misrepresentation of this call for accountability as "bullying", or an attempt to damage vegan businesses or even the vegan cause – when it is, of course, the very opposite (and despite my insignificant platform compared to those I consider to be the aggressors). Therefore, I would encourage readers to consider the available evidence, rather than unsubstantiated allegations. The report's conclusions on Barford's previous accusations, the public social media posts and comments of the individuals and organisations concerned, and the minutes of The Vegan Society 2021 AGM and Council meetings (if you're a member and can access them) may help illustrate who has worked towards upholding human rights at The Vegan Society, and who has worked to undermine such efforts; who has tried to challenge oppressive behaviour in the vegan community (and beyond), and who has been keen to embrace "problematic" individuals and organisations (such as those on the far-right).

Of course, I recognise that there are more important issues in the world today. However, I also understand how smaller acts of oppression create an environment in which larger ones can flourish. And while I reject speciesism, I do not intend to accommodate "sealions" (or other bad-faith actors).

Yours faithfully,

Robb Masters (former Chair of the Board of Trustees at The Vegan Society)

1 Quote from a current trustee via the Council mailing list.
2 Quote from a letter of complaint.
3 Quote from a current trustee at Council meeting (not minuted).



You are priceless you really are. These people and organisations will be highly delighted to read that you are disassociating yourself from them!

Maybe you will actually mean what you write and cease your whining and actually leave these individuals and groups alone. 

You are absolute poison to the vegan community.

Have you not realised yet that the problem is you? Just when you couldn't get any worse you turn into a parody of yourself.

Thank you for the awesome April Fool's joke. So early into the day too! You must have been just bursting to add that comment for the week and a half since my post. I particularly loved the absurdity of suggesting that someone who couldn't get any worse… then did exactly that! Hilarious! Such a shame that your selfless decision to post anonymously prevents you from being properly credited. /s

Of course, anyone who isn't playing the fool will recognise that disassociating myself from an individual or organisation does not mean that I cannot or will not continue to challenge their engagement (or complicity) in racism, transphobia, ableism, etc. If anything, it means that I'm even more free to do so.

But if I am a "poison" to the vegan community (one that I've been a member of for 25 years, and actively contributed to for over a decade – on a voluntary rather than profit-making basis) then it's because the mainstream vegan community willfully upholds and reinforces white supremacy and other systemic oppressions. This is harmful to both marginalised individuals and the nonhuman animals for whom we claim to advocate:

  • it undermines the rights-based arguments that are common to all anti-oppressive movements;
  • it alienates members of marginalised groups (and their allies) before we even have the opportunity to present the merits of our cause;
  • it literally hands non-vegans an excuse to reject our position ("oh, you vegans only ever care about animals, never humans!")

So I certainly hope that I am a "problem" for those who want their bigotry to be accommodated within veganism. And I'd encourage vegans and non-vegans to understand that we can – indeed must – oppose all oppression.

And that's no laughing matter.

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