For a profound re-evaluation and subsequent update of Codes of Conduct

In memory of the late Jon Tennant, who during the past months had been dealing with the inappropriate effects of Codes of Conducts in the form of mob justice on social media, and whose case inspired this statement

The signatories of this statement call for a profound re-evaluation and subsequent update of the creation and application of Codes of Conduct in the organisations that many of us and others are part of.

We fully support individuals reporting on inappropriate and abusive behaviour, including all forms of harassment. We understand the legitimate and commendable commitment of communities to create safe spaces and environments in which all individuals can feel respected and unthreatened by the behaviours of others. We understand that Codes of Conducts aim to create and frame these safe spaces.

Reciprocally, it is our understanding that these safe spaces should also mean that each individual member of the community has the right to be protected against disproportionate consequences should they be facing a report of such inappropriate behaviour.

We therefore suggest that procedures linked to an implementation of said Codes of Conduct should under no circumstances contradict the fundamentals of our democratic legal systems, values and standards1 to establish proper timelines and procedures of investigation.

These fundamental standards exist so as to avoid – as comprehensively as possible – any doubt of arbitrariness and/or unilateral interest influencing the difficult decision at hand. These fundamental standards may help a community to learn and grow in a constructive way, while also helping the victims of inappropriate behaviour to feel recognized, so as to empower them to break free from their trauma. These fundamental standards might also allow – when deemed appropriate by the community after a certain cool-off period – for a possibility to see the person responsible for the reported inappropriate behaviour to become reintegrated into the community at a given time, so not to mark them with the tag of the permanently outcast.

The latter is of paramount importance when the decision to exclude a member of a given community becomes the object of a public announcement outside the boundaries of said community. Any organisational body may of course exert her right to decide upon who can be included in their group, and who cannot. Nonetheless, once such a decision leads to an announcement that is made public, e.g. on a platform that goes beyond the reach of the community in question, the impact of such a decision inevitably exceeds any kind of internal dealings between the organization and the individual – which in turn often means an exponential increase in punitive force that affects any kind of future interactions between this individual and all other organisations and individuals they might be related with. The implementation of a Code of Conduct that does not take such principles and their exponentially negative effects into account will only lead to misinformation and speculation.

We collectively call on all organisations that either plan to implement, or already have a Code of Conduct implemented to guarantee the victims of inappropriate behaviour the possibility to speak up and remain anonymous if needed, but also to consider whether the procedures put in place do adhere to our democratic legal principles, which we consider the essential foundation of the open, healthy and peaceful societies we all strive for. In accordance with these democratic legal principles, Codes of Conduct should focus on the commonly accepted rules of good behaviour in the community, as to ensure mutual respect, tolerance and inclusiveness, and offer a frame for early and transparent mitigation and communication to avoid incidents leading to discomfort and misunderstandings. Additionally, in case of there being speculation about actual criminal conduct, we want to stress the need to notify established legal authorities to open an expert investigation. We strongly oppose the currently prolific “cancel culture” denying community members their right to a fair evaluation of their behaviour. A code of conduct that leads to replacing justice with mob justice, namely through public shaming of the accused, and those affiliated with the accused in any way via social media, cannot constitute a solid base for the development of any community.

Contributors (in alphabetical order) :

Véronique De Herde, Wojciech Francuzik, Ingo Keck, Paola Masuzzo, Michael Rera, Tobias Steiner, Rebecca Tennant, Asger Væring Larsen, and a dozen anonymous contributors we thank for their insights and comments.

Further signatures received – as of Aug 12, 2020, 08:30 am BST – from :
Rebecca M. Willén, Christopher Madan, Julien Colomb, Enrico Fucci, David Walters, Katarina Michnik, Clémentine Antier, Ivo Grigorov, Pilar Rico-Castro, René Bernard, Andrea Barbuti, Gavin Taylor, Juliana Soares Lima, Sarah Tennant, Joshua Dacre, Caroline Tennant, Steven Tennant, Simon Griffiths, Marie Jones, Sara Mynott, Erzsébet Tóth-Czifra, Encarnación Martínez Álvarez, Tiago S Marcos, Olivier Pourret, Stuart Cable, Surya Dalimunthe, Matthieu Lebastard, Kimmo Eriksson, Manojkumar Selvaraju, Gultekin Gurdal, Glenn Hampson, Catalina Torres, Monica Gonzalez-Marquez, Inês Almeida, Cooper Smout, Niels Hulstaert, Helen Walton, Kokab Sheikh, Jude Asbridge, Tanya Anderson, Carla Shawcroft, Ricardo Hartley, Jacinto Dávila Quintero, Mark Gurren, Rachel Mildred, Louise Hendrie, Jeanette Holligan, Lindsey Gray, Monika Krolak, Isabella Wach, Christopher Ferguson, Ljerka Ostojic, Dmitri Zaitsev,

We invite everyone who agrees with this statement and would like to support it, to sign it using this short form. We will regularly update the list of signatories with the new signatures received.

  1. Fundamentals of our democratic legal systems and international standards including established timelines and procedures of investigation – applied to Codes of Conduct

    • accountability in accordance with the Code of Conduct that an individual has agreed to at the actual time of the reported alleged offence for which they are reported (see ex post facto law enforcement and its usual non-applicability in many jurisdictions);
    • accountability for facts covered by the bilateral agreement that the Code of Conduct constitutes between organisations and individuals, at the exclusion of any other facts;
    • the right of the accused to voice their defence and explanation of their view on the matter to be heard by an impartial Code of Conduct committee in a fair and transparent process of investigation prior to receiving a final decision;
    • proportionality of the actions taken, in order to provide a safe environment while at the same ensuring that the severity of how the reported person is treated fits the seriousness of the reported behaviour;
    • When it is considered to make the decision related to the Code of Conduct public :
      • transparency of the notification made and the alleged behavior that is the objective of the investigation;
      • transparency about the investigative procedure, and about the motives underlying the final decision made at the end of the procedure.