Statement from the Trustees of The Vegan Society
We are issuing this statement to update our members on the outcome of an independent investigation, commissioned by the society and undertaken by Queen’s Counsel (QC), in relation to complaints received from members regarding the social media and other behaviour of the society’s Chair (Robb Masters) and Vice-Chair (Eshe Kiama Zuri).
The society has been committed to protecting the integrity of the investigation throughout. Trustees followed the suggestion not to comment in relation to it publicly until its conclusion. The Chair and Vice-Chair did not participate in the investigation process beyond providing evidence to the appointed QC.
Relevant evidence was provided to the QC who spoke with complainants and the subjects of the complaint to gather further evidence and information.
The investigation has now concluded and the report has been considered by Council.
Complaints were made that the Vice Chair had allegedly exhibited racist, discriminatory and offensive behaviour. These were accompanied by complaints that the Chair had allegedly enabled and/or supported such behaviour.
We have not named the complainants to respect their confidentiality.
None of the complaints against the Chair were upheld.
The QC concluded that content in two posts made by Eshe Kiama Zuri were unprofessional and inappropriate. It follows that the vast majority of complaints made against Eshe Kiama Zuri have not been upheld.
The QC emphasised that no criticism is made in the report of the fact that the Vice Chair expressed feelings of frustration, disappointment and anger within those two posts. The reason for the finding is that the language used was inappropriate and unprofessional on the basis that the posts could readily be related to the society.
The QC considered that mitigating factors included that some “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 friendships with individuals who were displaced from leadership positions…”; that the Vice Chair had been identified as a target for complaints, with people encouraged to search social media for adverse information; and the lack of support provided during that time.
The QC also considered that “The society took a significant period of time to decide how to respond to complaints made against Eshe Kiama Zuri... As a result, information which should have remained confidential was placed in the public domain and used to further fuel the campaign against Eshe Kiama Zuri… Eshe Kiama Zuri had previously and appropriately raised concerns about their treatment by members of Council and the society – those concerns have not been openly or fully addressed.”
On that basis, the report recommends that the Vice Chair is provided with advice and training in relation to social media use, and that Council reviews its induction and initial training of trustees to ensure that they are up to date, comprehensive and appropriate. The report does not consider it would be fair, proportionate or necessary to apply any formal sanction.
No recommendations were made in relation to the Chair, given that there was no evidence to suggest he had breached his obligations and none of the complaints against him were upheld.
The report also provided the society with helpful general recommendations to improve our performance and the efficiency of Council’s work. Council has agreed to seek to implement all these recommendations, which are that the Council of The Vegan Society:
- Provides generic role descriptions for Board Members and further role descriptions for specific roles and functions;
- Reviews its induction and initial training of trustees to ensure that they are up to date, comprehensive and appropriate;
- Reviews and amends its Trustee Code of Conduct so that it clearly sets out expected standards of behaviour and the consequences of inappropriate behaviour;
- Considers whether it should adopt an acceptable use social media policy for trustees. If no such policy is adopted the Code of Conduct should specify any expectations in relation to trustee use of social media;
- Adopts and maintains a strategy for Council renewal that will meet the society’s changing needs. The strategy should cover maximum terms of office and succession planning for key positions;
- Commits sufficient time and resource to re-building and developing positive working relationships between trustees and between Council and SMT;
- Acts quickly and positively to deal with relationship strains or breakdowns using external facilitation or mediation where appropriate and maintains a resource list which is updated from time to time and can be called upon when needed;
- Considers using formal recruitment procedures for Council leadership roles, making appointments based on merit which is objectively measured against agreed skills audits and requirements identified in the role description;
- Sets aside time to reflect on the performance and functioning of the Board, identifying and addressing any areas for improvement;
- Supports members in their training and development to include periodically reviewing the performance and development needs of each member;
- Has in place appropriate policies and procedures for whistleblowing including safeguards to protect individuals who whistle-blow;
- Adopts a written complaints procedure for dealing with complaints against trustees. That procedure should specify how complaints against the Chair and Vice Chair will be addressed and identify what support will be provided to the subjects of any complaint;
- Reminds its members that they owe a duty of confidentiality to each other and to the society and that breach of that duty for example by disclosing information about the conduct of society or Council business to third parties will be regarded as a breach of the Trustee Code of Conduct;
- Prepares and adopts an equality and diversity statement and policy for Trustees and collects equality monitoring information in relation to expressions of interest in trustee roles, applications and outcomes and periodically reviews that data;
- Shares a copy of the report with the Charity Commission.
As a collective, we are committed to making positive progress, never wavering from our common aims of supporting the growth of veganism and advancing the rights of animals.
Download the executive summary – a few sentences have been redacted to remove personal or confidential information from the executive summary. These are noted in the text in black highlighter.
There are some potential privacy and confidentiality issues around releasing the full report and we are taking legal advice to see if these can be overcome.
If you have any questions or concerns about the investigation please contact Louise Davies, Interim CEO at ceo[at]vegansociety[dot]com.