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February 13, 2018

5 minutes read

Farm Forward Statement on Sexual Harassment and Discrimination

See also our subsequent blog post “Progress: An Update on Farm Forward’s Commitment to a Safe and Inclusive Workplace and Movement.”

Headlines from the last two weeks have documented serious problems with workplace sexual harassment within the anti–factory farming movement. The most thoughtful discussions have put the problems with harassment inside the broader frame of pay inequity and chronic discrimination based on sex, gender, and race. That such discrimination is unacceptable should go without saying, but apparently it needs to be said: Sex, gender, racial and other forms of bias are both ethically intolerable and socially debilitating. Such discrimination troubles all of us and threatens the moral energies that are the ultimate foundation of the movement to end factory farming. At the end of this letter, I list four concrete ways that Farm Forward is responding to recent events but please first allow me to put those next steps in context.

Though my colleagues and I at Farm Forward have for several years taken increased action to address sex, gender, and racial bias in our movement I myself did not sufficiently appreciate the scale of the suffering faced by colleagues at other organizations and the profundity of the harm done to our movement as a whole. To paraphrase Indian farmed animal advocate, Clementien Pauws-Koenegras, there is a big difference between seeing and seeing. I am grateful to all of those who helped us see the problems, often at great personal cost.

Farm Forward wants to seize this opportunity to make the anti–factory farming movement more just in our workplaces and we know many other organizations do as well, but getting a firm grasp on the full shape and scope of the problems also requires the patience to look clearly and closely. Not patience with the wrongdoing, of course—so much of the shame of the present moment is precisely a kind of perverse patience for the exploiters. Rather, I point to the kind of patience that allows us to cease the problem-solving just long enough to grasp as fully as we can what has happened, and the nature and implications of the environments in which these sorts of problems have occurred. The right kind of patience builds our endurance and creates not simply a basis for response, but for creating systems of responsibility.

Enabling sexual exploiters and creating workplace environments shaped by sex, gender, and racial bias are bad enough problems, but the deeper truth is that these problems are also symptoms. I see many in the anti–factory farming space hastening to respond with policies and trainings addressed narrowly at anti-harassment, which is good, but I do not see transformative potential in such policy and training alone.

Perhaps the greatest possibility for transformation towards greater justice and efficacy lies in taking seriously the longstanding call of many prescient voices to rethink the nature of our fight against industrial farming. As Farm Forward Faith in Food Fellow, Dr. Rev. Christopher Carter, has helped me articulate, we would do well to ask what it would mean to not only be a movement “for” animal welfare, food justice, or other values, but also one of many movements standing against oppression—against oppression as a mindset and material system.

It is one kind of victory to, for example, address sex and gender based inequity; it is another to address the sources that lead sex and gender based inequity to be so widespread in the first place. We want to do both. At Farm Forward, this means that in addition to policy and training work, we are asking how sex and gender bias in the movement have impacted strategic decision-making, how we can better understand the harms this has done to anti–factory farming work, and, above all, asking what new strategies now emerge as worthy of attention.

The roots of gender, sex, and racial bias in the nonprofit sector are longstanding and deep. As my colleague at Compassion in World Farming, Leah Garces, put it, “pressure must come from stakeholders at every level to tackle the problem at its root and prevent further harm.”

Below are four ways Farm Forward is responding:

  1. Farm Forward already has a robust policy against sexual and other forms of harassment that describes in clear details our expectations of all employees. It is in fact the first policy we ever created and the first in our handbook. We are in the process of engaging the entire staff in a review of these policies, including instituting new training procedures. To read more about our internal policies against discrimination, see this link to our current employee handbook.
  2. In order to ensure greater equity, Farm Forward salaries are set according to a compensation formula and not individually negotiated by employees. When we hire new people we openly discuss how their salary compares to other employees for transparency. In addition, we have recently hired an outside consultant whose charge includes a review of our policies for determining salary to ensure ongoing fairness.
  3. While Farm Forward has received no complaints from employees to date (indeed, no full-time employee has ever left Farm Forward’s staff), we are in the process of developing and administering anonymous surveys and other procedures to ensure we are in fact achieving the safest possible working environment.
  4. Farm Forward in partnership with the allied nonprofit we helped found last year, the Better Food Foundation, will allot at least $50,000 in spending to address sex, gender, and racial discrimination and its impact on strategic decision making in the fight against factory farming. Stay tuned for further announcements about these efforts.

While saddened by all the harm that has been done, the present moment is ultimately a lucky one. We are fortunate to be in a movement that has broken the silence about abuses that are, in the end, a problem in almost every sector of our society. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to build a better movement, and we will.

Onward and forward,

Aaron S. Gross
Founder and CEO