Unconscious bias in the field and the board room

Our co-owner council discussed the issue last week: reading the notes, I was struck by the depth, nuance and humility.

Twice a week, I pick artichokes with my daughter Alice. Moving down the towering rows, I hear snippets of her Novara Media podcasts about George Floyd’s murder – and as we offload our full bags, she questions my and Riverford’s response to Black Lives Matter.

I am out of my depth; growing up in a 99 per cent white area, however liberal your beliefs, it is hard not to absorb worn-out racial clichés. I struggle not to become defensive when pulled up on using the wrong language, or when I am plain wrong; without the liberalism I was raised on, defensiveness could so easily morph into the ugly resentment and alienation displayed by far-right groups. 

Black Lives Matter
The Black Lives Matter movement has swept across the world. Image David Geitgey Sierralupe.

Unbeknownst to me, our co-owner council discussed the issue last week. Reading the notes, I was struck by the depth, nuance and humility: “The injustice of racism is an affront to our shared values of equality and diversity.” Broadly it was agreed that “we should support BLM while actively campaigning for issues we have more specific knowledge of. We have lots to learn ourselves. In line with our values, we should look for actions as well as words, particularly in an area where we have things to learn and improvements to make. We are an overwhelmingly white business. We can do better.” I don’t think I can improve on that conclusion.

As foundational first steps, we have enabled co-owners to attend protests (in line with government social distancing guidelines), and shared resources to help educate us all on systemic racism and white privilege. Senior management are planning sessions to discuss how we can improve diversity across our business.

Two years into employee ownership, the division of power between three bodies (an elected staff council, a board and our trustees) has proven a vast improvement on the unchallenged authority of an unelected, unrepresentative board. Far from drowning in consultation as some feared, we are strengthened by inclusivity and diversity, and the mutual challenging they encourage.

We still have a long way to go, but as a council member once said: “We are making a microcosm of the world I’ve always wanted to live in.” Kindness and equality are big parts of that; perhaps that is the best we can hope for.


Leave a Reply

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on the BLM movement and on the company response to improving diversity; a process that requires sensitivity in order to be effective and to truly deliver equality for people of colour. It’s great to see you actively supporting and discussing the movement, I think it’s so important that we are all visible, raising this issue as widely as possible, showing up, listening and learning. Thank you again.

  2. Martin Luther King looked forward to the day when only the content of someones character would matter. Riverford don’t have to play the identity politics of BLM and uncritically accept their simplistic “white oppressors “, and “black victims” narrative. We can and must stop judging by sticking people into labelled boxes. Saying things like, “We are an overwhelmingly white business. We can do better”, is frankly insulting to the individuals who work so hard for you, and to make an incidental factor like skin colour relevant where it should not matter.

    1. The Black Lives Matter campaign has raised global awareness of how much still needs to be done to get to a place where all are treated equally – irrespective of the colour of your skin. The huge levels of support that the campaign has received will hopefully be a catalyst for long overdue systemic change, and this is something that all businesses and organisations need to address..

    2. I wasn’t aware that the UK currently has a system of laws which allow for the discrimination of someone based on skin colour? If Riverford are refusing to employ any applicants because of the colour of their skin then this is currently illegal and could be a matter for the police to investigate……otherwise, what’s the problem?

    3. I too shook my head in disbelief at the disturbing (and racist) comment about having to do better because of the colour of one’s skin. Guy is right though, he does have a long way to go, unfortunately he’s currently going in the wrong direction.

  3. I recently lived in Devon for 3 years and for the first time in my life I felt like a minority. Dare I say it – I was frequently the only, or one of only 2 or 3 people of colour who dined at the Field Kitchen! In and of itself this is not a problem. It cannot be helped that there are areas of the world where certain groups are more likely to live. The issue at hand is one of systemic injustice, of which, BLM is only one (albeit critical) movement. BLM might not apply so much to Devon and Cornwall or other areas in the UK simply because there are very few people of BAME origin who are “seen” there. However I can say through my own personal/professional experience that systemic injustice is alive and well, and was sadly a major reason I left. Colour is only one criterion. There are numerous, often insidious ways, that systemic injustice thrives. This is something that everyone, regardless of your colour or background or position, must be prepared to examine – in any way you can. I agree that inviting guilt-driven, apologist narratives will be utterly counterproductive. Dialogue and openness to hearing out all perspectives, however challenging to our ears and minds, is the only way forward. To me it is a question of how we use our colossal first-world privilege to make the world a better, fairer and more cooperative place than it is currently. The greatest priority, which is where Riverford is so outstanding in its operations, is the planet and the environment. Because without it, it does not matter what your colour or level of privilege is, we are going nowhere.

    1. Agree totally with both Dibby and MKB 76 . ‘Colour is not the only criterion.’ How true. As a person from a white non-British background I have personal experience of some of the issues discussed, especially the more subtle, insidious forms of bullying and discrimination. But I would expect that Riverford would choose to employ someone purely on the basis of their suitability for the job, not their colour, gender, background etc. so as MKB 76 says let us prioritise the planet and the environment , because without that there is no future

    2. Hi MKB_76 Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and their impact. Also for speaking with such clarity around us all needing to engage with systemic injustice – for both people and planet.

  4. Learning a lot over the past weeks and being open to learning must be the way forward for us all.

    “Senior management are planning sessions to discuss how we can improve diversity across our business”

    I hesitate to post this link because it’s American and big business so seems far removed from Riverford but they’ve done the work and the resources, particularly the videos, are very well done and may save a lot of time. So I’m overcoming my assumptions and hope you enjoy!


  5. Today I received my first box from Riverford. I have been sooo excited. My excitement remained as I got home and looked at all the produce, then I started to read the pamphlet which included the above article and my heart sank. Yet another company has jumped on the Black Lives Matter bandwagon. I was not expecting this from a fruit and beg supplier. I am so disappointed.

    Comments about the ‘far right’ whilst ignoring the ‘far left’ group BLM. Comments about the company needing to ‘do better’ because it is too white, and talking about ‘white privilege’.

    This is so offensive to so many of your customers, suppliers and workers. It’s like they are just not good enough because of the colour of their skin. And throwing in the endless meaningless buzzwords such as ”systemic” and ”inclusive”, words which are largely meaningless but repeated enough can fool you into thinking they are actually saying something.

    And what underlies all this is the hypocrisy of it all. Would all you liberal types go to a majority black country and lecture them for not having enough whites? Would you go to a majority Asian country and lecture them for a lack of Jews? No…you wouldn’t dare. But you can lecture whites because they will not stand up to it. It is cowardly and more importantly….not treating people equally!

    I’ve never met a real racist. It’s worth reminding ourselves that we live in a time and a country in history where there is less racism than ever before and thank god for that.

    But I am white…and a male…and I am sick and tired of this unjustified criticism because of the colour of my skin.

    1. I,m really not sure myself why Riverford have chosen to align themselves with a hard left, Marxist inspired organisation. They are divisive, selective in their outrage and are not averse to vandalism and grossly violent behaviour ( as has been seen in the USA and recently, London). Racism has no place in a civilised society. BLM are making the situation worse, not better. And by the way, not all black people support it. I too was shocked by the language of Riverford being an ” overwhelmingly white business” ( especially dismissive of the wonderful Eastern Europeans who undoubtedly work at Riverford). Can you imagine someone thinking there was a problem with a business being “overwhelmingly black”?? So it is indicative of a weird kind of reverse racism. Leave colour out of it…….treat people as individuals. And let Riverford just be what it is good at….being a business for and with human beings, for the sake of the planet.

    2. Dear Simon and Dibby, Wicked Leeks magazine disagrees with your above stated positions and stands firmly in recognition of, and in solidarity with, the fight to end racism. The Black Lives Matter movement has given a voice to the history of oppression and violence against black people, which we recognise, and acknowledge we are part of, as ethical citizens. It goes without saying that we also stand against all racism – we believe in equality and respect for all. Please see this link for our full statement: https://wickedleeks.riverford.co.uk/opinion/inequality-diversity/wicked-leeks-stance-black-lives-matter

      Wicked Leeks is published by Riverford and is not representative of the company’s stance on any issue. However, standing against racism is a shared value and you can see Riverford’s statement on that here: https://www.instagram.com/p/CBVRMV_o1zp/

      With reference to Guy’s newsletter, which he personally writes, this stands for his view on the matter, which as you can see, aligns with both of the above. We stand proudly for what we believe to be right.

      If you have any queries regarding your Riverford order, you are very welcome to contact help@riverford.co.uk (we are unable to help with customer queries through Wicked Leeks).

      Thank you.

    3. Dear Comments Editor, I think you should apologise to Simon and Dibby for your aggressively divisive comments. In stating that you disagree with them and re-affirming that you support an end to racism, you are directly inferring that they support racism, which they obviously don’t because nobody in their right mind does. If you actually read and understood their comments you would have grasped that fact. But you seem intent on an “us and them” stance. Will you be censoring comments you don’t like in future?

    4. Thankyou Kali. I,m sure that we all share the same goal. I think Riverford’s and Guy’s motives are good, as are mine. I think we all share a vision of a world where we look back on racism as an historical horror. Riverford think BLM is part of the solution. I think they are part of the problem. Riverford are certainly a part of the solution environmentally and long may they continue. A brilliant company. Hopefully we can disagree and still respect each others opinions.

    5. BLM movement doesnt stand against racism, they dont care about ALL black lives they only care about defunding police and the lives which fell under the hand of the white police officers. I am all pro-fight against racism but I dont support BLM movement and their demands. Lots of black people themselves dont support BLM because of their one sided narrative. They are not a genuine organization. They should not be supported widely.
      Have you seen Terry Crews and Don Lemon on CNN? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzR8x_jlGaI
      Its very clear, they dont care about all black lives and this is what I have a problem with hence why I dont associate with it.

    6. Sorry to hear your first box contained ‘that’ newsletter. It is not typical. I have received hundreds of boxes over the years and the letters usually contain fascinating insights into farming procedures. It’s what Guy does best. Hopefully this was a one-off, otherwise we shall have to ask for a warning note “Be Advised – Contains Woke Material”

    7. Thank you for your support Kali. I rather suspect that there will be no apology coming. It’s not the first time I have been inferred as a racist for having a nuanced position on this subject, and I doubt it will be the last. It is sad but a reality.

      It is also rather sad though that the word ‘racist’ is thrown around now with such gay abandon that it cheapens it each and every time it is said, a direct insult to anyone who has actually suffered from it.

      BLM will only drive people further apart. It has been their intention from the start, and even the briefest look at their website, history and funding would give a curious mind an indication of this.

    8. Yep, if anyone doubts that BLM is not racist, the clue is in the title. But have they not been encouraged by white ignorance? “Critical race theory”, as taught in universities, suggests that Western societies are fundamentally racist in that they are designed to enrich themselves at the expense of minorities. This utterly false narrative is drilled into the heads of naive students at great expense and has resulted in a society which genuinely believes it is guilty of some terrible crime and must not only pay reparations but also be punished. Hence the bizarre practice of “taking the knee”. and other counter productive manifestations of perceived national guilt.

    9. Now there is the response of an obvious White Supremacist if I’ve ever seen one! I was beginning to think they were a mythical group, like pixies or unicorns, but you are clearly part of this insidious bunch that the BBC keeps telling us about.

      Joking aside you are 100% correct. This ideology has been practiced now in Universities for so long, and now those individuals are at an age where they are taking positions of power in companies and governments.

      It’s classic divide and conquer. Constantly tell one group that they are oppressed, have no chance of ever getting ahead, are looked down upon, and are justified in blaming everyone else for their problems. Tell the other groups they are racists, responsible for sins of their ancestors, are to blame for everyone else’s problems and must repent. Throw into the mix censorship, mass migration and the resulting demographic changes and you have the perfect combination for violence. Of course those in power are using both sides and will be ready to sweep in and ‘save us all’ with taking more of everyone’s freedoms away.

      This does get overwhelming because it has crept into every facet of our society. Despite it’s many flaws, social media and internet may also be our saving grace as for the first time in history we can share ideas and point out the obvious road this will take us down. I just hope it’s not too late.


    10. The BBC is a poster boy for the mass cultural brainwashing we are currently having to endure so I’ll accept their disapproval as a badge of honour. The blatant left wing bias and selective censorship of their news coverage is such an insult to the intelligence that I doubt if they’ll survive if they don’t draft in some level-headed adults to arrest the insanity. But like many, I don’t care much for politics and certainly don’t position myself as either left or right or anywhere else. Also like many, I simply yearn for a peaceful world where we can get on with the job of ensuring a decent standard of living for every human being on the planet. I feel this should be our collective priority not squabbling like infants over skin colour and gender issues while desperately virtue-signalling to an imaginary audience. Sometimes I think the human race is losing its collective mind but then I see these little beacons of light blazing away in the storm, dispelling the darkness and then I know there is hope.
      All the best.


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