Weekly news round-up

New FSU briefing on threat to free speech posed by B Corps movement!

We’ve just published a briefing called Woke, Ltd. by Thomas Harris, our Director of Data and Impact, about the B Corps movement, which we think is having a chilling effect on free speech. You can read about the report in the Times.

The movement originated with B Lab Global, an American non-profit set up in 2006. It now has branches called B Labs all over the world, including the UK. Indeed, the number of B Corps in the UK is growing exponentially, with more than the rest of Europe combined (as of 2022). To date, more than 1,900 companies operating in Britain have become B Corps.

To become a B Corp-certified company – a kite mark provided by your local B Lab, a bit like becoming a Stonewall Diversity Champion – the directors must go beyond maximising profits and commit to serving ‘people’ and the ‘planet’. In the words of B Lab Global, a B Corp is a “designation that a business is meeting high standards of verified performance, accountability and transparency on factors from employee benefits and charitable giving to supply-chain practices and input materials”.

That sounds benign and well-meaning, but certification involves a company changing its Articles of Association to include a commitment to meeting social and environmental targets, both internally and externally. For instance, the B Corps framework assesses a company against B Lab’s principles of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion – or JEDI, for short. Among other things, that means making a commitment to ‘racial justice’ and Net Zero and that, in turn, can lead to employees or customers who don’t share those values being penalised – a good example being Nigel Farage’s defenestration by Coutts, a B Corp-certified company.

We are concerned that the B Corps phenomenon is accelerating the adoption by British companies of contentious political ideas that originated in ‘grievance studies’ departments in American universities (gender studies, queer studies, whiteness studies), e.g. critical race theory (including the idea that all white people are privileged and it’s not enough for them to be non-racist, they must be ‘anti-racist’) and gender identity ideology. We know from experience that this ideology is often enforced with authoritarian zeal.

What is particularly worrying is that B Lab UK, the British arm of this movement, is lobbying for a new Act of Parliament that would mean British businesses have to comply with this ideology and impose it on their employees and customers – even their suppliers. If UK law is changed whereby all British companies have to incorporate B Corps principles into their operations, the Equality Act 2010 might have to be amended to dilute workplace protections for employees’ speech rights, so that certain beliefs – such as a belief in the reality of biological sex – would lose their ‘protected’ status.

As Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg says in the Foreword to the briefing, there is no need for companies to change their ‘purpose’ so they’re focusing on ‘people’ and the ‘planet’, in addition to profit. Adam Smith’s famous words in The Wealth of Nations remain as true today as they did in 1776: “Every individual necessarily labours to render the annual revenue of society as great as he can. He generally neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. He intends only his own gain, and he is, in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.”

Sibyl Ruth fundraiser – join the fight!

It’s been good to see the case of writer, editor and FSU member Sibyl Ruth gaining traction over the last few weeks (Express, Mail, Telegraph). Sibyl, who lost her job for pointing out that a man claiming to be a woman had a five o’clock shadow, is hoping to take her former employer to the Employment Tribunal in September – and needs your support.

You can find out more about the case and pledge your support here.

During a recent appearance on GB News’s Free Speech Nation with Andrew Doyle, Sibyl revealed a little more about what happened behind the scenes at Cornerstones, her former employer, in the lead-up to her contract termination. You can watch a clip of her interview here.

Elon Musk makes “game-changing” offer to users of X!

Self-styled “free-speech absolutist” Elon Musk has mooted the possibility of funding legal bills for any users of X that are “treated unfairly” by employers due to their activity on the platform, and suggested that in such cases he “will go after the boards of directors of the companies too” (Evening Standard, Mail, Reuters, Times).

Mr Musk has been vocal about his commitment to freedom of speech in the past, and shortly after acquiring Twitter, tweeted: “Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.”

Over the weekend, however, he went further, firing a shot across the bows of censorious employers who claim the right to police the lawful speech of employees outside the workplace, tweeting: “If you were unfairly treated by your employer due to posting or liking something on this platform, we will fund your legal bill,” adding that there will be “no limits” to the bills he’s prepared to fund.

Reacting to the announcement on GB News, Toby Young said it was a potential “game-changer”, but did also caution that we would need to see the details of Musk’s proposal before anyone from the FSU’s legal team gets to work dictating the terms of surrender for the massing forces of cancel culture.

We know of course that Mr Musk looks askance at any form of censorship that goes beyond the law, which suggests X Corp’s legal team may already have a well-defined understanding of what it believes constitutes “unfair treatment”. But does he intend to apply his nascent policy to X from this point forth, or will it be applied retrospectively to cover the period since April 2022, when he bought the platform, then known as Twitter? Is his legal commitment to service users to be applied outside the jurisdiction of the United States, where X is headquartered? And what about cases like those of FSU members Gillian Philip and Sibyl Ruth, where firms employ workers on precarious contracts, and then label them as ‘independent contractors’ rather than ‘employees’?

These details aside, the very fact that Musk has intimated a desire to legally defend the free speech rights of X’s users will no doubt already have given company directors across the western world pause for thought.

Allowing your firm’s uber woke, maliciously progressive Head of HR a certain ‘artistic licence’ on the disciplinary front is all well and good when it comes to bullying dissenting members of staff who you know can’t possibly afford to take you to an Employment Tribunal (the barrister and co-founder of the LGB Alliance Allison Bailey had to raise more than £500,000 to fund her recent legal case, for example).

But in circumstances where the second richest man in the world suddenly steps into the fray on the side of employees who’ve been treated unfairly for expressing perfectly lawful beliefs and starts threatening to spray fifty-pound notes like a fountain, it would be entirely understandable if board members began to question whether having activist employees congratulate them for remaining “on the right side of history” is necessarily always as important as running a business that remains “on the credit side of the ledger”.

The FSU sees an enormous number of cases of employees being punished for something perfectly lawful that they’ve said on social media, and usually on X.

This can include recently posted comments, or even comments that have been dredged up by ‘offence archaeologists’ in a targeted attempt to harm someone’s reputation – as happened, for example, in the recent, high profile cases of the then leader of Northern Ireland’s UUP Party, Doug Beattie (Telegraph), schoolteacher Christian Webb (Spiked), American comedian Kevin Hart (Spectator), and current FSU case Karen Sunderland (iNews).

If Elon makes good on this offer, it could be a real wake-up call to HR departments. You only have to look through our case files to see that at present, they are massively overestimating what constitutes an employer’s business.

The fact is that a huge amount of what happens on X has got nothing to do with a person’s job, or the contractually defined employment relationship they’ve entered into, and won’t feasibly harm an employer’s brand or reputation. As the FSU’s Chief Legal Counsel Bryn Harris pointed out on GB News this week, that needs to be the test – did the post in question actually harm the employer – but too often HR investigation teams make moral, normative (and, yes, deeply political) judgements about what employees should and should not say outside the workplace.

Is there a left way back from woke? Tickets for our next live event now available!

Our next event with Professor Umut Özkirimli will take place on Wednesday 13th September, both in-person in London and online. In-person tickets for ‘Is there a left way back from woke?’ can be purchased here and include a free glass of wine on arrival! Watching it online is free for FSU members – the link to register is here.

In his provocative new book, Cancelled: The Left Way Back from Woke, Professor Özkirimli describes how the Left has been sucked into a spiral of toxic hatred and outrage-mongering, retreating from the democratic ideals of freedom, tolerance and pluralism that it purports to represent.

Professor Özkirimli will be joined in conversation by two eminent public intellectuals. Professor Alice Sullivan has been instrumental in providing evidence that clarifies the need to preserve sex-based social categories in data-collection and policy-making, while Dr Ashley Frawley is one of the most interesting contemporary critics of identity politics.

The panel will discuss Professor Özkirimli’s book and how those on the Left, as well as the politically homeless, can be encouraged to reject the divisiveness of ‘woke’ politics and stand up for freedom of speech and democratic values. As ever, there will be plenty of time for audience Q and A!

Gender critical website blocked for promoting “hate and terrorism”

The website of the gender critical human rights organisation Sex Matters, which stands up for women’s single-sex spaces, as well as campaigning for clarity on the concept of biological sex in law and policy, has been blocked on Great Western Railway’s (GWR’s) Wi-Fi network for promoting “terrorism and hate” (Mail, Reclaim the Net, Telegraph, Times).

GWR passengers attempting to access the website of the group founded by Maya Forstater (who in 2021 established a binding legal precedent that gender critical beliefs are protected by the Equality Act), received a message that stated: “The domain is blocked by GWR because it’s associated with the terrorism and hate category.”

Dr Helen Joyce, the author of best-selling gender-critical work Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality and a director of Sex Matters, said: “Why does GWR classify a human rights organisation as so dangerous that travellers have to be protected from accessing its website? Sex Matters stands up for women’s single-sex spaces, child safeguarding and freedom of belief and speech. What is there to object to about that?”

Sadly, if you’re a radical trans activist, and you view any dissent from the basic tenets of gender identity ideology as ‘hate speech’, and any criticism of your actions as ‘transphobic’, then the answer to that question is “quite a lot”.

Last week, for instance, it emerged that a guidance document recently issued to public libraries across the country advises librarians to censor, hide or limit the purchase of “offensive” and “transphobic” gender-critical books – including Dr Joyce’s bestseller – to avoid “upsetting” LGBTIQ+ service users.

Earlier this year, a large group of trans activist students and their academic ‘allies’ at Edinburgh University were twice able to prevent the screening of Adult Human Female, a documentary which explores the impact of self-ID on the lives of women from the perspective of female prisoners, lesbians and academics, on the grounds that it is “hateful” and “transphobic” (Scottish Daily Express).

When Professor Kathleen Stock was due to speak at Oxford University in May, the university’s LGBTQ+ society urged the Oxford Union to rescind its “misguided” invitation to this “transphobic” academic, whose views they regard as tantamount to “hate speech” (Telegraph).

Just this week, the SNP’s sepulchral Deputy Leader in Westminster, Mhairi Black, claimed gender critical campaigners who defend women’s sex-based rights are comparable to white supremacists, and that any “50 year-old Karens” who disagree with her extreme views on transgender rights cannot be “decent” people (Spectator).

And so on and so forth, the infinite agony of life in a pluralist liberal democracy stretching out before this maladjusted sub-section of society like some grim, industrialised conveyor belt, leading ineluctably to the Gulags.

In the case of GWR’s Wi-Fi network issues, the policing of sites that passengers are allowed to access is apparently managed for the train service by an outside provider that uses AI to scan websites and block them if they fall foul of a number of criteria, namely “hacking”, “adult content”, and “terrorism or hate”.

According to a statement issued by GWR, Sex Matters may have been blocked because AI incorrectly categorised it as adult content due to the number of times the word “sex” appears on the campaign group’s website.

It’s a nice, well-rounded little exculpatory tale, but doesn’t explain why passengers were notified that they were being denied access to the website not because of “adult content”, but very specifically because it was – as a salaried trans activist working for, say, an outside provider of AI-based IT services might have put it – “associated with terrorism and hate”.

The slow creep of politically motivated denial of critical services

A female survivor of sexual violence whose operation at a London hospital was scrapped as a result of her request that only biological women be involved in her intimate care is calling for vulnerable patients to be given greater protections based on their sex-based rights (Express, GB News, Mail, Telegraph).

Former solicitor Teresa Steel was due to have a complicated abdominal operation at The Princess Grace hospital on Oct 10th last year, and in her admission forms stated that she required single-sex bathrooms and would not discuss pronouns.

However, on Oct 6th, as she underwent her pre-op assessment, a transgender nurse not involved in her care entered her private examination room, making eye contact with her while doing so. Ms Steele believes she was “targeted” in this way because she had expressed her legally protected gender critical beliefs during the admission process.

Later that day she sent a complaint, repeating her demand for same-sex care, and asking for assurances that after her operation a male – or a transwoman – would only enter her room with her prior agreement.

At 7.36pm the following evening, hospital CEO Maxine Estop Green notified her via email that “we do not share your beliefs and are not able to adhere to your requests” and that therefore the operation was being cancelled.

Ms Steele did not see the email, and only found out about the cancellation when a prescription did not arrive. Following a public outcry, including a petition with thousands of signatures, Ms Steele’s surgery was rescheduled.

The CEO later admitted that Ms Steele’s privacy and dignity were breached when the trans nurse entered her room, and Ms Estop Green said she “sincerely apologise[d]” and recognised “how unsettling this must have been”.

Ms Steele is now calling on the HCA, one of the UK’s largest private healthcare companies, that owns The Princess Grace and also provides services to the NHS, to change its policies to ensure that vulnerable patients are given protections based on their sex-based rights.

“Since my experience with HCA, I have been contacted by many women patients who are now too afraid to speak out,” the former solicitor said, adding: “It is particularly distressing to hear from disabled women, including a young woman who is paralysed and has been forced by a private agency to accept intimate care from men under threat of her care being withdrawn.”

Ms Steele’s public intervention comes as cases of other, similar forms of politically motivated denial of critical services have started to emerge.

A private medical hospital in the United States recently refused to treat a woman undergoing treatment for breast cancer based on “disrespectful and hurtful remarks” she made in a private email to her physician. What were the outrageous things she said? She objected to the presence of a trans pride flag in the clinic’s reception area (Reduxx).

Last year, a Canadian woman was also evicted from a shelter for women struggling with mental illness who have also been the victims of domestic violence, after expressing concerns to management about gender identity ideology, following two separate incidents with transgender women in the residence. “The fact is you’re transphobic,” the manager told her during the eviction process, adding: “[T]his is not the right place for you.” (Reduxx).

Closer to home, new guidance from the NHS Confederation – published in partnership with the LGBT Foundation – warns that patients may be found guilty of direct discrimination or harassment if they refuse care from a transgender medical professional.

“If a patient or relative refuses to be treated or cared for by a healthcare worker due to the employee’s protected characteristic of gender reassignment, and this request has no reasonable clinical merit, this may be direct discrimination or harassment,” the 97-page guidance states, adding that patients who express “any such views… may be removed from the premises”. Remarkably, the document goes on to suggest that patients with dementia “should still be challenged” if they express discriminatory views about transgender staff.

King regards,

Freddie Attenborough

Communications Officer