Decent Work for Indigenous, Black and racialized workers

ONN Projects Data Evidence-Use Learning (DEAL) | Decent Work for Indigenous, Black and racialized workers | Decent Work for Women | Reimagining Governance

Decent Work Phase Four

Context setting

The summer of 2020 propelled many nonprofit organizations to reckon with anti-Black racism with the heightened awareness of police brutality and historical state violence. Almost a year later, 215 Indigenous children’s bodies were found in a residential school in Kamloops, the community of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc. 

It became imperative for the nonprofit sector to recognize that the sector is built on and benefits from settler colonialism, white supremacy and systemic racism. For many settler led organizations, it didn’t take long before they realized that external communications would only be appropriate once internal structures of racism and oppression had been examined. 

Although the journey for some nonprofits may have begun in 2020, many organizations across the nonprofit sector have sought to address the injustices faced by these communities for decades. And that’s because the issues faced by Black, Indigenous and racialized communities are not new.

Decent work is a prism to look at some of the internal questions that organizations have in terms of creating equitable working conditions for nonprofit workers. In 2017, through ONN’s exploration of decent work for women in the nonprofit sector, themes of racial justice, Truth and Reconciliation and intersectionality emerged. The need to deepen our understanding of how racial justice, supporting Indigenous sovereignty and decent work intersect would lead to the fourth phase of the project. 

This current phase has a specific focus on Indigenous, Black and racialized workers in the nonprofit sector and builds upon the existing work of past phases. In this phase, ONN will be supporting organizations and individuals within the Ontario nonprofit sector across Turtle Island to advance racial justice, and Indigenous sovereignty, while also fostering the conditions for systemic change.

Decent Work movement building

Graphic recording shows the summary and key highlights of a session on philanthropy, work and labour at a conference. Lots of colours on the image and the gist is the need for decent work in the world of philanthropy, for which philanthropy would need to be reimagined. For example, unpaid internships, addressing power imbalances, working conditions, and more! Art by Annalee Kornelsen.

Early learnings of the project uncovered that many organizations are searching for tools and resources to support their work to embed decent work in their organizations. In the last two years, nonprofits have committed to actualizing efforts of inclusion, racial justice and decolonial practice within policy reform, hiring and/or training of staffing. The focus on racial justice and decolonization has often centered on increasing internal capacity within organizations. 

Through an early scan of the sector, it has become increasingly clear that a monolithic, sector-wide approach to addressing racial justice and Indigenous sovereignty will not work. The sector is vast and diverse, and addresses equity in different ways, such as decolonization; diversity and inclusion; anti-oppression frameworks and practices, etc. Organizations and leaders across the sector find themselves on a spectrum of advancing decent work – some have chosen to focus on internal capacity building and HR practices, while others have focused on more systemic issues such as funding or public policy advocacy. 

After completing an environmental scan of the sector, including hosting conversations with sector leaders on decent work, some of which are captured in Digging in with ONN, the following four themes emerged as points of tension in advancing decent work and racial justice:

  • The need to (re)define decent work using an intersectional, anti-racist, anti-colonial framework. 
  • Tools to support the implementation of decent work human resource practices. 
  • Education and resources to support knowledge around racial justice and Indigenous sovereignty and connections to decent work.
  • Addressing the systemic factors contributing to systemic racism and colonial practices rooted in accountability.

Decent Work: Project scope

The Partnership Table identified the following "actions" that would be included within the project scope:

Decent Work education and capacity building

For years Indigenous, Black, and racialized communities have identified and called for accountability on how white supremacy and colonization have roots within our sector and influence norms and practices.

In all aspects of the project, we will: 

  1. Center the voices and amplify lessons, practices and teachings from Black, Indigenous and racialized workers through knowledge mobilization, including but not limited to, training, teach-ins, conversations, art, podcast recordings and more. 
  2. Re-imagine leadership/human resources and strive to dismantle the reproduction of white/colonial patterns within the nonprofit sector.

Re(defining) Decent Work and indicators

In past iterations of the decent work movement, ONN, in collaboration with network partners, developed a charter and checklist to support the sector in identifying best practices. While racial justice cannot be confined to "best practices in a checklist," we hope to create tools to support advancing racial justice and Indigenous sovereignty that can support the nonprofit sector. 

As part of the project we aim to share with the sector: 

  1. An updated decent work charter with an emphasis on Black, Indigenous and racialized workers and tools to support organizational practices.  
  2. Decent work practices that speak to the unique needs of Black and Indigenous-led and serving nonprofit organizations and workers.

Understanding the landscape of Decent Work through data

Many nonprofits continuously seek data on equity-deserving groups to support funding and advocacy initiatives. Our understanding of data extends beyond numbers (quantitative) to also include stories and experiences (qualitative) that paint a picture of decent work movement building. As part of the project, we intend to:

  1. Collaborate with sector leaders and organizations conducting research on decent work practices that advance Indigenous sovereignty and racial justice.
  2. Explore decent work practices using data equity principles.

Making connections and building relationships

Relationships and collaboration are critical to advancing racial justice and practices of reciprocity that center Indigenous sovereignty. As part of the project, we hope to address the systemic gaps by connecting nonprofit organizations with the philanthropic sector to support economic stability by: 

  1. Creating pathways for access to existing jobs to support the sustainability of Indigenous, Black and racialized communities through information sharing on grants, funding opportunities and grants. 
  2. Reimagining funder and government relationships to shape decent work practice with a focus on racial justice and Indigenous sovereignty.

Project partners and supporters

  • The Partnership Table: Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Circles, Toronto Neighborhood Centres and CEE Centre for Young Black Professionals. 
  • The Advisory Council: Black Femme Legal, Family Service Ontario, Thinking Rock Community Arts, LGBT Youth Line, The Enchante Network,  Atlohsa Family Healing Services, and Ontario Soccer.
  • Taylor Newberry Consulting (TNC) will walk with ONN through a developmental evaluation, providing circular feedback as co-creation from the Advisory Council and Partnership Table leads to concrete outcomes.

Resources about Decent Work, Racial Justice and Indigenous Sovereignty

Video recordings

ND 2021 Session - Work In Progress: Unpacking White Supremacy in Nonprofit Organizations

Webinar - Tips on how to implement a four-day work week and other Decent Work practices

Decent Work related blogs

Caption Reading Decent Work Spotlight
Collage image of three nonprofit leaders

Additional resources can be found in our Resource Centre.

Stay informed

If you have any questions about this project, you can reach out to Yami Msosa. For updates on our project, learning, stories and related resources or events, subscribe to our quarterly newsletter!


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Decent Work project funder

Atkinson For social and economic justice


Digging in with ONN is a Decent Work podcast series.
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