Fern’s mission is to increase understanding of, and access to, European policy making; and to campaign for policies and practices in Europe that focus on forests and forest peoples’ rights and deliver economic, environmental and social justice.
But what does environmental and social justice mean?
For Fern it is a world in which people – irrespective of their gender, ethnicity, citizenship status, socio-economic class, ability, sexuality, age, and mental and physical health – have access to adequate knowledge and resources to participate equitably in decision-making that affects their lives and livelihoods. Since social inequalities and unjust political and economic systems are the root cause of environmental crises, we work to protect forests and restore them to health by promoting and defending the complex rights of the people who depend on them. As an organisation which has always worked for human rights as well as for a healthier, more liveable environment for all, Fern recognises that forest destruction and mismanagement is rooted in both social inequalities and economic structures, and that these issues need to be tackled together. Given the international influence of the European Union (EU) through trade, development and consumption; and our own geographic position within Europe, we specifically seek change in the policies and practices of the EU.
What are the socio-economic inequalities?
There are common systems of oppression which operate in different ways in different places. These include ableism, ageism, antisemitism, classism, heterosexism, sexism, transphobia, racism, and xenophobia. At their root, these can all be traced to overarching structural oppressions like patriarchy, imperialism, capitalism, and white supremacy. The way that systems and structures of oppression play out is country and region specific, as are the acts of resistance by people seeking social and ecological justice. Social justice movements have often been led by organised groups of people who are most marginalised within these dominant socio-economic and political structures. This includes women, people of the global majority, disabled people, Indigenous Peoples, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer (LGBTQ) people, migrants, refugees, smallholders, and a range of precarious/low-income workers.
How does this connect to Fern and forests?
We know that good forest policy is context specific and therefore we seek contextual understanding when making our interventions. Similarly, the fight for equity and justice is nuanced and also requires a careful approach. The professional environmental and development sector in Europe, North America and Australasia is dominated by socio-economically affluent people. This is in part due to access that is enabled by layers of privilege such as the level of education, family wealth, social networks, gender conformity, and proximity to whiteness. Fern was founded by women, has specific experience in advancing women’s rights, and a historical commitment to campaigning alongside international partners on the social justice dimensions of forest issues. However, our position within the broader environmental sector means we still have work to do to understand social inequity so that we are equipped to meaningfully address power imbalances both within our organisation and in our work with partners, state institutions and the policy-making instruments of the EU.
Recent years have seen a huge increase in organisations of all kinds undertaking Diversity, Equality and Inclusion (DEI) reviews in an effort to increase diversity within their workplaces. However, many have called these out for being tokenistic and not getting to the heart of the problem – which requires dismantling the social hierarchies and economic structures that create inequalities in the first place. In the last few years, and most poignantly in the wake of the most recent Black Lives Matter uprising in May 2020, the environmental world has been soul searching about their position in legitimising systems which continue to oppress and exclude people. This has involved asking questions about the limitations of and problems presented by environmentalism that is blind to socio-economic inequalities.
As an organisation that calls on other institutions to think about power and their role in reproducing structural inequalities, it is essential that we do the same. We are therefore in the process of revisiting our internal processes, our internal and external communications, and the way that we work with each other and other organisations, especially those who represent civil society voices that contrast with the homogenous EU and northern NGO policy making culture. This review has already challenged some of our understanding of forest issues, and led to changes in our campaigning methodologies, communications, partnerships, workplans and strategies. Fern acknowledges the urgency of tackling injustice through an integrated social and ecological approach and of putting in place mechanisms to prevent ourselves from unintentionally reproducing the power inequalities that create the problems we seek to solve. This is at the heart of our organisational mission, vision, values and theory of change.
Over the next five years we commit to continuing to:
- Grow the culture of learning and accountability at Fern, educating ourselves on how to implement meaningful diversity and inclusion policies.
- Improve our internal co-management, welfare and belonging policies to become more inclusive and anti-oppressive.
- Identify and address social inequalities within all our campaigns as a fundamental aspect of our mission because environmental destruction and social inequality cannot be separated.
- Connect with, support and learn from organisations or groups who are focussed on areas where Fern lacks expertise such as racial justice, Indigenous land struggles and LGBTQ rights.
- Share our funding and resources carefully with consciousness of power and access.
- Engage in conversations with our funders and think together about how resources can be levered to support equity and justice.
- Monitor and evaluate our progress towards these commitments publicly at least once a year in our annual report.