Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion on Expeditions Statement

The Society of the Protection of the Underground Networks (SPUN) is committed to the principle of inclusive action, appreciation, and promotion of diversity and zero tolerance of any form of discrimination.

Life on Earth relies on all forms of human and non-human diversity. This diversity, across all landscapes and interactions, drives and sustains our work. At SPUN, we believe that good science can only be achieved through equitable inclusion and the promotion of diverse life experiences, both human and non-human, in the entire process of knowledge production and dissemination. As such, we are committed to finding ways to support underrepresented groups and minorities facing structural inequalities across the globe.

As part of our mission, SPUN aims to understand, protect and foster the mycorrhizal networks that regulate the Earth’s climate and ecosystems. However, we acknowledge that many well-intentioned environmental initiatives end up perpetuating hegemonic power dynamics due to exclusion of local communities in the processes of planning and decision-making. Therefore, we seek to ensure that our efforts build connections and networks to help the knowledge production and decision-making of those most impacted by the problems we seek to address.

Environmental and climate justice can only be achieved if power imbalances are also tackled, especially acknowledging that the people and territories that have contributed the least to the current environmental crises are most vulnerable to them. Women, indigenous peoples, and black and ethnic groups from the Global South continue to be disproportionally affected by the environmental crisis. Consequently, we promote and encourage inclusive research practices that consider the local and scientific communities and organizations in the places where data is being collected and where knowledge is produced.

Consequently, we adhere to a series of principles to support these aims:

  1. Advocate to expand the inclusion of diversity in our networks
  2. Identify and remove barriers to the inclusion of diversity and to make reasonable adjustments when necessary to support diversity and equity
  3. Meaningful inclusion and engagement with local communities, institutions, and NGOs in our research practice from the design to the diffusion of the results, whenever possible
  4. Prioritize interdisciplinarity or trans-disciplinarity when possible
  5. Democratize science and ensure that we produce clear and transparent communications, with special attention to precise language that is scientifically rigorous, inclusive, and accessible to diverse audiences
  6. Work towards expanding our approach to incorporate diverse knowledge and worldviews.

Ethical guidelines

Our ethical guidelines consider a diverse set of documents and social actors. We draw on ethical principles embedded in local environmental laws including the required permits for collecting and exporting samples and special permits for protected areas and ecosystems. We comply with international agreements and regulations such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), Nagoya Protocol for Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS); and the Rights of Nature Law adopted in Bolivia and Ecuador and the Recognition and Protection of Sacred Natural Sites and Territories, and Customary Governance Systems statement by African custodian communities of sacred natural sites in Africa[1]. In tandem with the Declaration of the Indigenous Forum of Abya Yala (2013[2]), we respect and support the vision of the indigenous people and their relationship with Mother Earth:

“For the indigenous peoples, our lands, territories, and resources are fundamental elements that allow historical continuity and the fullness of life, spirituality, social, cultural, economic, political, and human development, linked to our worldview that consists of the deep relationship with Mother Earth.” (Declaration of the Indigenous Forum of Abya Yala, 2013)

We draw on the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the 169 International Labour Organization (ILO) convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (1989).

Taking these documents as guidelines, our expeditions are based on values of respect, collaboration, reciprocity, and complementarity as guides for practices and relationships. Equally, we understand that each context might be different, and these principles should orient our practices, but not constrain them, and that ultimately, they can be adapted to respect the core values and aims.

The principles that guide our expeditions are:

Principle of dignity, respect, and zero tolerance for discrimination

Everyone has the right to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their age, gender, sexual orientation, race, nation of origin, or disability, among others. No one should suffer any disadvantage as a result of differences. SPUN works to foster anti-sexist and anti-racist environments in tandem with its zero-tolerance policy for any form of discrimination. Equally, we acknowledge that structural violence requires strong efforts and ongoing work to build self and internal awareness to fight these biases.

Principle of respect for non-human beings and Earth, and commitment to protect and foster the contributions from nature

SPUN is committed to protecting mycorrhizal fungal communities considering their key role in sustaining biodiversity and Earth’s ecosystems. Therefore, research carried out should engage with principles of respect, harmony, and the collective good, and aim to protect and regenerate the Biosphere.

Principle of Self-Determination, Free & Informed, and Prior Consent (FPIC)

Following the dispositions in the ILO Convention N°169, research must take into account the right to self-determination of indigenous and tribal peoples, and has to seek free, prior, and informed consent from the indigenous communities when research is carried out in indigenous lands and territories. Equally, it must respect indigenous laws, traditions, and customs.

Principle of fairness and due credit in the scientific practice

All research should acknowledge the participation of the people involved and give due credit to their contributions and share the benefits that come from the research. These should be agreed upon with each social actor considering their preference and showing respect and appreciation for local and indigenous knowledge and for local scientists.

Principle of collaboration and cooperation in research products

Along with acknowledging participation and giving due credit to their contributions, we aim to develop strategies to collaborate with local scientists whenever possible on research products (articles, book chapters, conferences, etc.). Equally, we are committed to working towards democratizing and decentralizing science so that local communities can participate not only in the way we plan and execute our expeditions, but also in the products and the presentation of data, to make it accessible and understandable.

Principle of openness and ongoing development of awareness

We understand that there is no “one-size fits all” approach for DEI and that it is an ongoing and long-term commitment, context-dependent. Consequently, we value openness to listening and learning from others and we understand that it requires building self-awareness to be able to listen and learn. Our efforts will also orient to work towards decolonizing our practices and fostering our anti-sexist and anti-racist awareness.

While this declaration orients our work, we also acknowledge that building internal awareness to tackle power inequalities and coloniality within science requires strong and long-term efforts. Therefore, it is always a learning process, open to change and adaptation to our own development and to specific contexts to better fit our purposes.

[1] Available here

[2] Available in Spanish