Grupo Bimbo bakes truth and reconciliation into its corporate culture

Marked by a "legacy space" in its new HQ, the company is looking to take action with the help of the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund.

Bimbo Canada Legacy Wall

By Will Novosedlik

Mexico-based baked goods giant Grupo Bimbo’s Canadian operations have made a commitment to Indigenous Truth and Reconciliation. Only they don’t call it “reconciliation” at Bimbo Canada.

They call it “reconciliaction.”

That rather loaded portmanteau is a reference to the demands embodied in the “94 Calls to Action” that came out of the Commission on Truth and Reconciliation, which was created to give voice to Indigenous survivors of the residential schools and relatives of the thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Reconciliaction” is a word coined by the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund (DWF), part of Gord Downie’s legacy and commitment (and also that of his family) to improving lives of First Peoples in Canada. And it is a word that has now been baked into the corporate culture at Grupo Bimbo Canada, which has partnered with the DWF to promote conversation, training and action around Indigenous issues.

When news of the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves on the grounds of a former residential school outside of Kamloops B.C. was announced in May 2021, members of Bimbo’s Diversity, Equity and Belonging (DE&B) team wanted to take action.

Earlier in the year, Bimbo had begun a “lunch with leaders” initiative called “Courageous Conversations.” It was a way that issues around diversity and inclusion could be openly discussed with senior leaders and shared company-wide. The first in the series was a conversation between president Joe McCarthy and LGBTQ2 employees about what it’s like to come out. The DE&B team decided this was the perfect platform for discussing Truth & Reconciliation.

The next conversation was between McCarthy and a group of Indigenous employees whose lives have been affected in one way or another by the residential schools. McCarthy says it was a life-changing experience, and it was after that conversation that the company committed to partner with the DWF.

This inspired two members of the DE&B team to ask what else they could do. So they came up with the idea of creating a permanent “legacy space” dedicated specifically to truth and reconciliation, and is located at Bimbo Canada’s new headquarters in Toronto.

“The space is designed to celebrate and honour the the unique culture, perspectives, and contributions of Indigenous people,” says Leslee Wills, VP people and corporate affairs. “It’s got resource material, videos, artifacts, and books that associates (employees) can borrow to read or take home to their families. And the whole theme of that space is about moving forward together to build cultural understanding, connection, and a path to reconciliation between Indigenous and non-indigenous peoples.”

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The most striking element in the space is a large mural by Anishinaabe artist Blake Angeconeb. Drawing from the same traditional form language that has animated the works of Indigenous artists like Norval Morriseau, Jim Oskineegish and Philip Cote, Angeconeb’s mural is about moving forward together to build cultural understanding, connection, and a path to reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

One of the 94 calls to action, #92, is a demand that businesses provide education for management and staff on the history of Indigenous peoples, including the legacy of the residential schools. Bimbo Canada’s partnership with DWF gives it access to the Indigenous Cultural Competency Training program. It’s goal is to provide people in business with the necessary support to improve the skills, knowledge, attitudes and values – helping the company move towards “reconciliaction.”

“That really resonates with our DE&B goals and is the biggest portion of the partnership with DWF,” says Wills. “They have also agreed to help expand that conversation when we do events. And so on May 12th, we’re hosting a food and beverage industry event in our legacy space to open up a discussion with our peers to talk about creating an inclusive work environment for Indigenous Canadians.”

Angeconeb’s mural embodies references to the core values of Indigenous culture: the Seven Grandfather Teachings. They are love, respect, courage, honesty, wisdom, humility and truth. Imagine what a different world it would be if businesses operated according to these principles.