Business action against racism

Meng Foon, New Zealand’s Race Relations Commissioner, spoke to members recently about the important role of business in reducing inequality for people, business, and communities to thrive together, and how they can contribute to the national action plan shaping a racism-free Aotearoa.


Gerri Ward, Director EY and Deputy Chair, SBC: One of the pieces of feedback that I will always remember is that you said we shouldn’t be talking about anti-racism we should be talking about kindness.

Meng Foon, Race Relations Commissioner: I’ve always had a thought in terms of how do we actually do this and how do we actually continue to be kind and I take it back to our own personal experiences in at home and the experience of dating of being polite to people, nice to people

Gerri Ward: showing your best side

Meng Foon: that sort of stuff, I mean that’s a good start, right? I have three A’s – one is Awareness of your surroundings and the people that are around you and the issues and context. Number two A is Affirmation, that you must affirm these values and actions every day, the positiveness of them, and the third one is actually Action.

Gerri Ward: Racism is a multi-headed beast, it’s intergenerational into lived experience, intercultural how do you tackle a systemic problem like that, where do you start?

Meng Foon: I think starting at the top would be helpful, at the board level where the governors of the organisation have said look, we’re not going to tolerate any of this bias or structural or systemic racism, they can work from the top, because if it doesn’t work from the top it’s not going to work at all. You know New Zealand is one of the most diverse countries in the world now, especially in the last 20, 30 years and they say that in around about another 10 years time, 50% of our population will be of colour of some sort, and the rest Caucasian.

I think we have a big responsibility in just de-racing things and just saying that we are all valued human beings.

Gerri Ward: How do we move forward and progress inclusion if we haven’t decolonised the system?

Meng Foon: Well I think the easiest thing is actually go and visit a marae. Organise the marae, make sure you pay the koha to the marae, if you’ve got Māori staff they could actually guide you, and if not Māori staff you got on your organisation, there must be some friends and neighbours that you know of and say look can you come and help us and support us on our journey to the marae, and tell the marae what you want to learn and then they will facilitate it.

Gerri Ward: Do you have any suggestions on how bystanders can intervene without escalating the situation?

Meng Foon: I think at work you can actually play role these situations play role a situation where there’s going to be an abuser and play role how you can actually be safe. In terms of being an upstander. The police will actually support you in terms of how to do it. They would like you to actually gather evidence and they will have a way of showing you how to gather evidence which is not hard which is really writing time, place, how many people involved, what was said, and the best thing is a camera capture.

Gerri Ward: How do you manage the challenge of wanting to promote inclusion within organisations, but not putting too much pressure or workloads on those minority groups to manage the initiatives?

Meng Foon: Well one way is to employ some more. Don’t just ask the minorities what they want, whether they have disabilities or they are of different minority races or anything, ask the whole organisation and ask the organisation how they could actually help to uplift and respect the values of the minority workforce.

Gerri Ward: I just want to leave some time to talk about the National Action Plan, can you introduce what it is, how we can participate, what your time frames are?

Meng Foon: So the National Action Plan is a United Nations signed up document with the New Zealand Government, and the Labour Party have actually put it in their manifesto, and so they are going to own and implement the action plan. They have asked the Human Rights Commission to actually engage with civil society which is yourselves, and we would love you to participate in your experiences and your knowledge and how to eliminate racism in Aotearoa. You could go to the Human Rights Commission’s website

Gerri Ward: Thank you so much for your time my friend, it has been such a great kōrero. as always.

Meng Foon: Yeah it was a great chat, lovely to be with you all.

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