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A call to action for racial equality

June 2, 2020

A call to action for racial equality

In support of #BlackLivesMatter

A note from Jeroen Ouwehand to our global Clifford Chance community

Over the past week we have all watched the civil unrest in the United States unfold following the killing of George Floyd. We are aware of the profound impact of his killing and what has followed will be having on all of us but especially our black colleagues in the US and across the globe as well as their families. We share a deep sense of revulsion at all types of racial injustice. As a leadership team, we wanted to acknowledge that we fully appreciate that the death of George Floyd and countless others has opened up a wound for many, that will take time to heal.

In line with our strongly held commitment to justice and equality as a Firm we believe passionately that inclusion and diversity are essential values. We also believe that we must be committed to protecting and promoting these values – it is not enough that we simply say we believe in something, we have to take actions that make it a reality. The challenge we face is to galvanize our shared values and our skills and turn them into a catalyst for real and lasting change.

Today Evan Cohen, our Americas regional managing partner, has announced that the Americas region is doubling its funding to the Equal Justice Initiative to support the important work that they do in furtherance of inclusion and racial justice. We do not regard this as a comprehensive solution – it is an initial but tangible step. There remains a daily need to further inclusion across our organisation through the work of our affinity groups, policies, programmes and reporting and – perhaps most importantly – how we treat and respect each other every day. We are also exploring what options are available to us to support affected communities through our pro bono work.

We recognise the situation has created distress for many communities represented within the Firm. With a view to ensuring any actions we may take are focussed and impactful, we have already started to actively consult with our Black and Latino subcommittee in the Americas, along with our REACH committees in the UK and Australia on the further steps we can take as a Firm. It is also important for us to recognise that events like these are not unique to the US but are a reality for people across the world.

The impact of events like this can be felt all the harder as we are not all together at this time. So we would ask you to reach out to one another and find the time for some shared kindness with people who you feel may be more affected by this. 

We will continue to consider what concrete actions we can take in response, using the avenues and expertise available to us to see how best we can help and support people and to actively challenge discrimination.

A note from Evan Cohen to our Clifford Chance Americas community

Several years ago, our New York office was fortunate enough to host Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of the brilliant book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. I recall him saying during his visit that those Americans who viewed 9/11 as the first time terrorism landed on our shores did not understand what it meant to be black in a country where the color of your skin puts you at risk for racial terror every day. 

Sadly, we were again reminded of that observation just a week ago today, when our country witnessed the senseless and horrific killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. It became the latest chapter in our shared American history - one that has too often been marked by racial injustice that remains the greatest stain on our nation. Since then, unrest has spread across the country, including in the streets of New York and Washington, DC, as people of all races and backgrounds express their pain, fear and anger while speaking out against ongoing discrimination and oppression. 

We have all become familiar with the names Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and, now, George Floyd. But we should also be reminded that many of our own colleagues, as well as their family members, experience discrimination on a daily basis simply because of the color of their skin, their religious beliefs, their sexuality or any other reason that marks them as outside the mainstream. These are not only our colleagues but our friends. We must work together to make our nation a more fair, equitable and compassionate place for all.  

Earlier this week, we held an initial call with members of our Black & Latino subcommittee. I was joined by members of our leadership team and, in addition to expressing our personal support, we wanted to listen to our colleagues and discuss what more could be done to ensure our workplace is always inclusive and respectful of everyone, and identify positive steps we can each take as individuals. Several good ideas were raised during the call and I look forward to continuing our dialogue and implementing new programs that help us meaningfully address these important issues.

In Just Mercy, Mr. Stevenson said, "I've come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned. We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated."

As a law firm, we regularly fight for justice and equality -- it's why so many of us chose to work in the legal profession.  Today, as a first step, I am announcing we are doubling our annual funding to the Equal Justice Initiative to further support the critical work they do.  And I've asked our Pro Bono team to increase the number of racial injustice-related pro bono matters we work on, including from EJI.  

In this difficult time, please know that you are not alone and, as always, Firm resources are available to support you.

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