Resignation Letter, July 2021
Dear Louise, the Board of Trustees,
I hereby formally tender my resignation as a Trustee of the Vegan Society.
In doing so I endorse all that my co-Trustees have said in their recent resignation letters. I echo their support for Robb Masters as Chair, Eshe Kiama Zuri as Vice Chair and Louise Davies as interim CEO.
Since December 2020 and the commencement of the vitriolic and sustained social media campaign instigated against Eshe and Robb by former Trustee, Tim Barford, I have become very much aware that the Board of Trustees has neither structure nor the will in place to support Trustees who become the subject of allegations. Worse, I have observed that there is a culture amongst the four longest serving Trustees that allowed newer Trustees to navigate extremely difficult and public waters in a vacuum while making it abundantly plain to us that they had, in this particular instance, pre-judged the allegations and supported the Complainants. The inference was very clear, that we too should take their viewpoint.
The Chair, Robb Masters and the Vice Chair, Eshe Kiama Zuri were at the centre of spurious, random, unsubstantiated allegations that seemed mainly to rely on the right-wing concept of 'reverse racism' together with a deep personal dislike that was clearly evidenced when Tim Barford guested on a YouTube discussion on Christmas night. There, Barford made clear his personal hatred of the two accused. This should have been enough for the Board to dismiss all his allegations out of hand, rooted in hatred as they so clearly were. He reinforced his behaviour over five long months of relentless barraging on social media until May 2021. Despite this, myself and other Trustees were told repeatedly by one Trustee in particular, that this really wasn't about Barford, but about the 'behaviour' of the Chair and Vice Chair.
As time progressed, more Complainants were sought out and encouraged by Barford, to search social media for 'evidence' against the Chair and Vice Chair, a veritable old-style 'witch'-hunt, which resulted in the Board taking legal advice and ultimately appointing Senior Counsel, an expert in the field in which the allegations were cast. The Vice Chair countered initial allegations in December. It seemed that this was not enough for certain Trustees with agendas that would become clear.
With some difficulty, due to an unwillingness to allow non-clique Trustees to be appointed, an Investigation Committee was eventually voted in, comprising of two newly elected Trustees and one long-term member. The former two had an extremely fraught time, including being doxed by Tim Barford and constantly questioned by certain Council members as to their honesty and ability in the handling of the Investigation.
As an individual, I was publicly attacked by Barford (despite not knowing him) seemingly because he considered I was 'on the side' of the accused. Another Trustee who was not re-elected at the AGM was also impugned by Barford. There was ongoing public comment by Barford himself that he was privy to confidential information from within TVS/ Council.
It seemed very clear to me as one of six affected out of a Board of ten Trustees, that:
- our reputations were on the line to varying degrees and were entirely unimportant
- we did not have the support of other more experienced/long term members of the Board
- we were at risk of being unable to fulfil our duties as Trustees because of the disruption and unease
- TVS was unable to protect us, or persuade Tim Barford to cease his behaviour, while the Report was in commission (or at any time from mid-December until after the AGM on 22nd May.) I believe he should have had his membership suspended as soon as he started to ignore the requests of the Senior Management Team to behave with propriety. Instead he brought TVS into disrepute, inferred his collusion with Trustees and Staff, as well as causing untold damage to the physical and mental health of the Chair and Vice Chair along with damage to reputation and more. He also cast aspersions on the motivation and character of myself and three additional Trustees
- we were labouring under an established fiefdom of personally invested Trustees of lengthy overall tenure who brooked nothing in the way of fresh input to long established orthodoxies.
Six of us issued a PSA in the form of a website in an attempt to protect ourselves (Vegan4themany.) We had all agreed on a voluntary basis not to comment on the Investigation while it was live and in the absence of support this was our only option.
By doing this, we enabled the clique of Trustees to ramp up expressions of doubt and hostility including an attempt to intervene in the Investigation Committee. I had hoped that our action might have garnered empathy and awareness from our colleagues but instead they doubled down in bad faith.
As the AGM of 22nd May approached and it became very clear that we were not going to have Senior Counsel's Report to hand, we took further legal advice as to whether we could adjourn or postpone. The head of the Investigation Committee approached the Charity Commission who advised we should seek either. We had crisis meetings of Council. Our own solicitors concurred with the advice given to our head of the IC by the CC.
Despite this, on the morning of 22nd May, a minority of the Board and their accomplices forced through a vote to proceed with the AGM. There was an accusation that the head of the IC was lying in relation to the advice she had received from the CC (later unambiguously proven to be unfounded but no apology from the Board member(s) who accused her.) I consider the fact that the AGM proceeded to have been directly against legal advice, Charity Commission advice and the tacit agreement at the crisis meetings held by the Trustees. Furthermore, I take the view that these Trustees, their family members and certain Complainants (Tim Barford; the anonymised daughter of one sitting Trustee up for re-election and probably others who lacked the courage of their convictions but submitted anonymous complaints against Chair and Vice Chair) forced the vote through in the expectation that the pre-AGM campaigns against Robb Masters (and Ali Ryland who was indeed not re-elected) would result in him losing his seat. Indeed, Tim Barford was gloating in advance on social media using bullying football chants to signal Robb's impending ignominy.
It was a disappointment that a majority of additional members at the AGM chose to go with their own convenience rather than the ends of justice and while I'm hugely grateful to the members who voted 'For' an adjournment, I have little wish to serve members who complain about a couple of hours of their time being 'wasted' when we were working long unpaid hours on their behalf. On that point, I will be cancelling my membership of TVS at this time. The staff do a great job but the Board of Trustees is an anachronism and hold back any meaningful progress.
On 7th June the Reporter delivered her Report and a shorter Executive Summary. It seemed at last that matters could move on after publication and implementation of the recommendations, apologies to and support for Robb Masters and Eshe Kiama Zuri (even if long overdue) and the possibility of reflection and a holistic way forward.
Over five weeks have elapsed and we have barely moved forward other than to edge through by majority vote, issue of a watered down 'Public Statement' in the Members Area (support for Eshe and Robb was rejected) and Senior Counsel's executive summary (redacted solely for the benefit of the accusers.) Nothing more. Motions struggle in the face of the breakdown on Council. Every recent attempt by Robb as Chair to push TVS business forward inevitably meets a brick wall, deferral of votes and/or complaints from other Trustees. This is nothing new. From the moment he was elected Chair I've observed the criticism and scrutiny he's faced, the slowing down and excessive wordiness, both in email threads and at Council meetings; the lack of co-operation. The creeping paralysis of TVS business while certain Trustees exert too much authority over senior members of staff. Even Robb's innovative approach to sharing the content of his weekly meetings with the interim CEO has caused criticism of content amongst certain Trustees.
We have embarked upon a process of mediation (at Robb's behest) and this has focused my mind on the inevitability of my resignation, largely for the reasons rehearsed above but more importantly because I can see no path forward for me on a Council so dysfunctional that two Trustees in particular have not only roundly dismissed the findings of the Report but have gone much further by writing to the Charity Commission with a formal Note outlining dispute to Content and a random one-sided timeline of additional allegations. They continue to deny the Vice Chair the right to express themself on their own social media, one Trustee recently commenting that even the two posts that linked them to TVS in the Report, were two too many. For me that expresses a level of authoritarianism, superiority and control that rejects any pretence of tolerance and prevents the possibility of an all-inclusive Vegan Society, far less convergence on Council. Added to this, the very fact that the usual Trustees actually opposed mediation, forcibly rams home the hopelessness of such an exercise at this stage.
Legal advice was rarely accepted; Charity Commission advice was refuted; Senior Counsel's Report has been largely rejected; a previous attempt to engage in Diversity Training on Council was an insult to the two black Trustees (through no fault of the delivering organisation) and this process of mediation will no doubt meet the same fate. Once again my colleagues will be marginalised, belittled and insulted.
The ongoing ability and confidence to talk over exonerated individuals, refute the reality of, and right that the Vice Chair has to express their lived experiences and to then dismiss the Report of a QC who specialises in the field of Equality and Human Rights are expressions of arrogance and extreme privilege that can only bring TVS into disrepute and I want no further part of this by association. The fact that both Eshe Kiama Zuri and Ijeoma Omambala are black and respectively non binary and female is noted. I can't help but ponder whether Stephen and David would have picked apart the Report had it been prepared by a white, male QC.
I find it shocking, but not in the least surprising, that there appears to be more concern over the anonymity and reaction of maliciously driven Complainants than there has ever been about the health and well-being of the Chair, Vice Chair and other Council members.
I believe TVS should give serious consideration to dismantling the remaining Board and starting from scratch, whether or not the Articles of Association allow for this. It's clear to me that the minutiae of TVS formal documentation in present format has been used to weaponise against working towards a progressive Vegan Society Board that sees the pressing need for a pro-justice, intersectional approach to animal and human interaction and cross species equity; the inextricable linkage between animals of all species including humans.
I express my thanks to TVS interim CEO, Louise Davies, for the patience and good grace with which she has conducted business at Council meetings and for TVS since she accepted the poison chalice after the departure of the previous CEO. Thank you also to other members of the SMT who have had to attend these meetings. No employee signs up for this abomination nor should they have to endure it.
I hope future Trustees will be more progressive and drop the 'animals only' reactivity which is so damaging to the vegan cause. The species barrier will only be dismantled if we embrace humans too. Respect for the Rights of Animals, by definition, includes consideration of our own species and those who're most oppressed. Tolerance, listening to others, a willingness to understand privilege are fundamental to that justice.
Sorry for the essay but it contains integral elements of my reasons for resignation. There are ways of combining our capitalistic business model with the ethos of veganism without embracing corporate Nestle; we can support the Palestinians who face the apartheid regime laid in place by the State of Israel. This is not an anti-semitic stance and Trustees would do well to self-educate on the fundamental difference between the State and the Jewish People. Just two examples. Western exceptionalism and imperialism run rampant across global Borders and TVS should be complicit in none of it. We managed to publish a performative statement in support of BLM last year (where there was no perceived comprise to TVS Trademark business.) We need to do better: we can express our solidarity with marginalised peoples while observing our charitable aims, despite Stephen's and David's assertions to the contrary.
Openness, transparency and honesty include keeping TVS members in the loop and on that note I see that 'The Vegan' will include a statement relating to the advice of The Charity Commission and the Society's solicitors to adjourn the AGM (even if voted down) despite David's written wish to keep that information from the wider membership.
Meanwhile, Tim Barford re-emerges on the topic of his egregious campaign, pontificating upon the Executive Summary and once again illustrating his complete hubris, insulated by ego from the implications of his oppressive, bullying behaviour. If ever there was evidence of the need to publicise the full Report it is his misunderstanding of the abbreviated content he has so far seen. Vindication should be for the wrongly accused, not twisted and editorialised by him into some sort of shallow victory. But we have the Statement and redacted Executive Summary hidden away in the Members Area and yet again, no support for Robb and Eshe. Any duty of care I may have to TVS is overshadowed by the behaviour I have witnessed to this moment. What I do owe TVS is the truth and as a now former Trustee I will act to that end in the wider public domain.
Concurrently Stephen and David pay lip service to the idea of mediation, evidencing this with scant regard to subtlety in recent threads. They have no intention of accepting any position other than their own. Stephen goes further with his barely disguised threat that if you don't support him and his views you are tainted and not worthy of office. Thus the intimidation and manipulation continue to be finely drawn and exerted on all new Trustees where they don't follow his party line. More proof of the absolute necessity of term limits if TVS is ever to move forward and thrive. Three of us had been on the Board for a mere two or three months when Robb and Eshe were elected Chair and Vice Chair but our cards were well and truly marked from that day to this, despite a voting record that clearly illustrated our independence and integrity.
Lastly, I'd like to remind the Board of the vision of the Founding Members of The Vegan Society, some of which is precised in our descriptor on The Charity Commision website as follows:
What the charity does:
- The Advancement Of Health Or Saving Of Lives
- Human Rights/religious Or Racial Harmony/equality Or Diversity
Who the charity helps:
- The General Public/mankind
How the charity helps:
- Makes Grants To Organisations
- Provides Services
- Provides Advocacy/advice/information
(A) TO FURTHER KNOWLEDGE OF AND INTEREST IN SOUND NUTRITION AND IN VEGANISM AND THE VEGAN METHOD OF AGRICULTURE AS A MEANS OF INCREASING THE POTENTIAL OF THE EARTH TO THE PHYSICAL, MORAL AND ECONOMIC ADVANTAGE OF HUMANKIND.
(signed) Michele Fox (she/her)
Personal Statement, May 2021
My reason for joining Council as a Trustee was to continue working towards a World where we treat all animals as autonomous individuals; enabling their personhood and with that, their intrinsic Rights not to be treated as things, as objects, as property.
To have a realistic expectation of educating towards justice for all of them, we must also look to the real meaning of equity and parity within our own species and spaces, without prejudice or discrimination and fully inclusive and embracing of each other's race, gender, sex, ability, class, age and culture.
In my short time on Council I've engaged with Ali, Eshe, Joel, Robb and Sally and been excited to share their vision for a future for The Vegan Society which includes a keen awareness that to expand our membership, its vital to engage with all demographics with a conviction that leaves no room for empire building, inward looking political squabbling, cronyism, racism or opacity in our procedures.
We need to evolve into this challenging decade with a strong sense that our ideology is expansive for all: that we are a welcoming home for ideas, discussion and inclusion without the bondage of an immutable hierarchy. Veganism is about dismantling systems of oppression after all.
If we strive to encourage non vegans to consider their ethics and change their behaviours, then we must include all of them in our advocacy, not put them off by engaging in obfuscation and elitism.
We are working hard to deliver outcomes with the hope that what we achieve will attract a much wider membership who will in turn become engaged in our ideological vision for a fairer World for all living beings.
Candidate statement, March 2020
I have been vegan since around 2004 when I came to the conclusion that vegetarianism did not fulfil my ethical criteria. Since its inception four years ago, I've been a core volunteer member of grass roots 'Go Vegan Scotland.' This principally involves street advocacy, speaking to members of the public on a one to one basis about why Animal Rights, veganism and anti-oppression issues are such important topics and supporting those who are already vegan, or moving in that direction, with practical matters relating to living as a vegan in today's society. With GVS I'm also involved with public talks and posts on social media in support of our work in Scotland and beyond and I've represented us on the mainstream media and as part of a team who co-hosted a presentation at The Scottish Parliament.
My main career job was in the legal sector until I was made redundant. There I worked my way up through the field of legal fee charging, reaching a senior position as head of department and reorganising the firm's structures around feeing. I then spent two years at Agricultural College where I gained a Higher National Diploma in Countryside Management and came Top of Year in each year. I went on to do a third year in Environmental Protection and Management at Edinburgh University but did not complete due to financial reasons. I feel this time adds to my understanding of the challenges facing Farmers and custodians of the countryside as we move forward with plant-based goals. I've also worked for Historic Scotland, the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service, an au pair teaching English to French children and self-employed working as an animal carer and gardener.
In 2011 I became ill with a bacterial infection which tracked to my heart, resulting in the requirement for a replacement aortic root and valve. During heart surgery I had a blood clot to the brain, resulting in a major infarct and permanent sight loss. I am now registered blind. After the recovery period I went down the redeployment route but ultimately resigned my job, applying retrospectively for early retirement which was granted.
With time on my hands I have learned how to manage my life and get around well and independently. I have visual acuity so can read and write competently and efficiently. This re-learning procedure took a while and I feel I now have new life skills that I can bring to the challenge of acting as Trustee for the Vegan Society.
On a personal level, I feel my disability gives me insight into the marginalisation people can experience for a multitude of reasons, not just restricted to health. I spent the major part of my life as a very fit and active person who benefitted from wellness so now I find my changed circumstances give me a sensitivity and depth of practical experience that I lacked before. My challenges equip me well.
The Vegan Society is a stand-alone institution, ideally placed to address education world-wide and build from strong founding principles and roots centered in a vision of justice for human and other animals and the planet we share: I feel strongly that membership can be expanded, consolidated, included in the dialogue moving forward. As a registered educational charity it's well-positioned to take advantage of its unique position, continuing to avoid the pitfalls of profit driven growth and stay true to the legacy, ethics and future of veganism.