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Biotechnology firms pledge measures to tackle racial inequality

“Embedded in every technology are the biases and perspectives of the people who built it—from the history of colour film to the present debates over facial recognition.”

A number of biotechnology companies have issued statements to promote diversity within their firms and to denounce racism in light of the global Black Lives Matter protests.

Anti-racism protests have taken place across the world over the past few weeks, sparked by the death of George Floyd in the American city of Minneapolis, Minnesota, when a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, the incident captured on a phone.

This has led to a number of biotechnology companies lending their voices to support anti-racism initiatives.

In a press statement, biotechnology company Ginkgo Bioworks (@Ginkgo) said it had and always would stand for equality.

CEO Jason Kelly said: “We stand with the black community against racism, systemic injustice, and police brutality.

“At Ginkgo, we work with the most powerful technology on earth—biology—to solve some of the greatest challenges we all face. But science and technology are political, and deeply entrenched in systems of racism and oppression. Embedded in every technology are the biases and perspectives of the people who built it—from the history of colour film to the present debates over facial recognition.

“Because our technology is biology it affects everyone—our bodies, our food, our environment, our medicine. And none of these can be separated from the injustices of our society and the inequalities in public health, food systems, and the impacts of pollution and climate change. We must ensure that both the risks and the benefits of synthetic biology are justly distributed.

“A first step is making sure that the people building the technology reflect the diversity of those who will be impacted by it. We’ve long sought to be transparent about our efforts towards diversity within the synthetic biology community, and have committed to increasing the diversity on our team. But our efforts have been far from enough. Today, only 2% of our team identifies as black or African American. This has to change.”

He went on to say that “we must also examine the technologies we develop, urgently, openly, and inclusive of the ecosystems we are part of—our communities and our natural environment. We must incorporate the diverse voices and visions of all those who play a role in the future of biology”.

“So, as we continue to build our platform, and especially as we build diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for Covid-19, which is disproportionately impacting communities of colour, we are committing $1 million towards building a more equitable company, technology, and society. This will take many forms, from programmes for recruiting, training, and inclusion within Ginkgo, to supporting and sponsoring organisations that promote the inclusion of marginalised communities in biotechnology,” Kelly maintained.

Biotechnology company Novozmyes (@Novozymes) also pledged to promote diversity. In a statement to Novozymes’ employees from President for Novozymes North America and Vice President, Bioenergy, Brian Brazeau, he wrote: “At Novozymes, we greatly value the diversity of our Zymers and are firmly committed to fair and equitable treatment for everyone. Racism, discrimination, and hate have absolutely no place in our world.

“For me personally, the senselesss death of George Floyd that took place in Minneapolis and protests that followed have led to a period of deep reflection.”

He said that the company’s ‘Regional Leadership Team’ would be launching an initiative to “properly discuss diversity and inclusion within the North American organisation”.

Brazeau added that the company would do “so humbly” and through extensive dialogue with its employees.

“The intention is for a tangible action plan to then be crafted – and to inspire the rest of Novozymes around the world to properly take on an issue that we must all take on – and dedicatedly so.”

Green chemistry company Evolved by Nature (@EvolvedbyNature) also issued a tweet on Twitter and stated: “We endeavour to develop healthier products and processes for people and the planet. But we now know we must extend our purpose and commitment, especially with the knowledge that the Black community also faces disparate rates of Covid-19.”

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