To natural products industry leaders: Let us act now to dismantle systemic racism

This important work needs to begin immediately—here are eight ways you can actively engage.

June 3, 2020

4 Min Read
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The U.S. natural products industry was built by pioneers who worked together to challenge the status quo in the name of progress and creating a healthier world. At no time in our industry’s history has the need for collective action been greater than it is right now.

As an industry we must stand in solidarity against the systemic racism and abuse of power that contributed to the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others. "I can't breathe" is a metaphor for the state of the health and well-being of black bodies.

As part of our stand against racism, we must work on our own house. We can do this by:

  • Collectively building a more just and equitable food system—one that doesn’t exploit and neglect the most vulnerable members of our society.

  • Providing greater access to healthy food and nutrition so that these health essentials are available to all, not just to those of us who are privileged enough to afford it.

  • Proactively creating access, opportunity and funding for people of color within our community.

Making progress toward these goals will require us to address the makeup of our current industry leadership. According to the Natural and Organic Industry Benchmarking Survey conducted in late 2019 by the J.E.D.I Collaborative and New Hope Network, only 2% of leadership positions within our industry companies and on company boards are occupied by African Americans. The situation isn’t much better for Latinx professionals, who hold 2% of company board positions and 6% of company leadership roles within the U.S. natural products industry.

This lack of diversity within our community perpetuates a system of institutional racism that is prevalent throughout the business sphere. It also prevents us from being able to serve the people who could benefit most from health-promoting food and products, and contributes to the long-term costs that all of society pays when we support an unjust food and agricultural system.

This situation isn’t unique to the natural products industry. “White body supremacy,” as Robin Diangelo writes in "White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism," dominates U.S. culture and is accepted, propagated and even celebrated in professional arenas.

As Diangelo writes, seeing and understanding the ways white body supremacy perpetuates racism and holds us back as a community can be difficult for those of who are white, especially when we have few neighbors, friends or colleagues who are not white and especially when we benefit from our whiteness.

More of us are waking up to the scope of the important work we have in front of us and are looking for concrete, actionable ways to engage. Here are several ideas to help you get started:

  • Engage as a Black Lives Matter ally: The movement needs all of our support, and this online resource lists actions you can take as a BLM ally.

  • Engage with the J.E.D.I Collaborative. We created this community collaborative to break down systemic barriers to inclusion for all people and to help you take steps to embed justice, equity, diversity and inclusion into the fabric of your organization. The J.E.D.I Collaborative website lists basic steps you can take now and also provides a growing body of resources that will support you throughout your J.E.D.I journey.

  • Make a J.E.D.I commitment. The J.E.D.I Collaborative will support you in making commitments in three main areas: Culture, Consumer and Communities. The website provides examples of specific J.E.D.I commitments you can make, along with actionable steps to bring those commitments to fruition.

  • Reach out and listen to the people of color in your community, on your teams and who work throughout your supply chains. As Brian Terry, who is black and a national sales manager at Nordic Naturals, posted on LinkedIn: “If people of all races truly want to know ways they can help, you can start by listening and understanding your Black colleagues.”

  • Educate yourself. The J.E.D.I Collaborative site lists many books, articles, podcasts and videos on topics ranging from anti-racism to understanding white privilege. Ijeoma Oluo’s keynote address during the J.E.D.I Collaborative leadership launch is a particularly powerful resource for the natural products community. (To access Oluo’s powerful keynote address, click on the Leadership Launch event; her talk begins 39 minutes into the recording.)

  • Support businesses owned by people of color. Buying from or patronizing businesses owned by people of color has never been more important. Here is a list of 20 natural products brands started by black entrepreneurs.

  • Help the American Sustainable Business Council confront racism. Sign the ASBC’s statement declaring that “We must remove the boot from the necks of black people” and support the ASBC’s work to build an inclusive economy.

  • Donate to the organizations fighting the food insecurity and economic inequality issues that are harming people of color. Black, Latinx and Native Americans are contracting and dying from COVID-19 at disproportionately high rates, and these communities also disproportionately experience poverty and hunger. COVID-19 and the resulting economic crisis is creating an even more urgent need for the financial support of these and other organizations on the front lines of poverty and hunger.

This is an incomplete list, but it provides you with several key ways you can get involved right now. Through these actions, we can be allies for positive change and help construct the more just, equitable and inclusive world we all deserve.

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