We’ve introduced an Employee Activism Policy

Written by Tom Greenwood - April 17, 2023

Since Vineeta and I founded Wholegrain 16 years ago, we’ve always believed that businesses are a key pillar in shaping our modern world, and therefore must themselves reflect the type of society that we want to live in – a world in which humans and our natural environment are treated with respect.

Our aim has always been to see how we could do this in practice at Wholegrain and I’m proud of the initiatives we’ve taken along the way. Just as a few examples, we launched a campaign for businesses to become carbon negative back in 2008, way before concepts like Net Zero were on anyone’s minds. We’ve been pioneers in greening the web, and we’ve introduced innovative sustainability policies like our no fly policy. We’ve also tried to look beyond our direct impact as a company and support employees to reduce their own environmental impact – using Climate Perks to support holidays without air travel, incentivizing employees to use renewable energy at home and using the Do Nation platform to inspire personal action.

Never happy to stand still, I’m excited to announce our latest initiative – our Employee Activism Policy, which I believe is the first of its kind in the UK.

What is activism?

Activism is one of those terms that means different things to different people. The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as:

the use of direct and noticeable action to achieve a result, usually a political or social one

Typically this action might include non-violent civil disobedience, protests, marches or campaigns. At its core though, I believe the essence of activism is being active rather than passive in trying to create positive change in the world. How we each do that is up to us.

As a company we do this by actively leading the way in better business and web design practices, as well as by supporting campaigns like the Local Electricity Bill and the Better Business Act. However, activism is one of those areas where the boundaries of personal and corporate responsibility can seem blurry. There are some types of activism that a business can’t officially endorse or participate in. Likewise, there are passionate individuals who want to take a stand on issues that they personally care about, and who might be nervous that certain types of action might put their employment in jeopardy.

So what’s our activism policy all about?

Our employee activism policy was sparked by conversations that I had at last year’s GoodFest. For a variety of reasons it has taken a lot longer than I expected to bring it to reality, but having now taken the necessary help, feedback and legal advice, I’m excited to finally launch it officially.

Hooray! 🎉

In essence, the policy sets out how Wholegrain Digital will support our employees with their personal activism, including non-violent direct action (NVDA) and it sets some clear boundaries on what we expect in return.

Our support includes paid time off to take part in activism, protection of employment, and some financial support toward NVDA training and even bail money if needed.

In a world with increasingly urgent environmental and social crises, together with growing authoritarianism at home and abroad, it’s more and more important that people feel that they can stand up for what matters to them and make their voices heard.

Our policy does not endorse any specific personal actions, but it hopefully sends a clear signal that we respect and thank those who are willing to take a stand on behalf of others.

You can read the full policy in our employee handbook here.

Want to create your own activism policy?

If you are interested in creating an activism policy for your organisation, we’ve partnered with Business Declares to release an open source template together with some useful notes, which can be adapted to your own organisations needs. Of course, feel free to ask us directly about our own policy.

If you need legal advice on your own activism or NVDA policy then I highly recommend the team at Bates Wells, who are a rare breed of lawyers who really get it and care about creating positive impact.

Finally, I’d like to say a a huge thanks to Ben Tolhurst at Business Declares who made a big contribution toward this, as well as Gareth Roberts at Beyondly.