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Animal rights advocates must make demands on industries

In the absence of pressure and demands from a social movement against an industry, there’s nothing for a government agency or counter-movement to respond to. In the face of such a movement – one which demands nothing from industry at all – the industry will remain unchanged, writes Tim Gier.

13 February 2011

Recently I was reading this interesting piece by Sociologist Roger Yates on the role of “Animal Welfare” organizations and it has caused me to think about the role of advocacy in shaping responses to social movements. In the article, Dr Yates argues that those who exploit other animals in the course of their businesses will:

monitor the general discourse about the use of animals created by animal advocacy and, as ever, in league with their political allies, they will respond to rights-based claims-making to abolish animal use with suggestions and implementations of welfare reform. Since they always respond to animal rights with animal welfare, there is no need for specific welfare reforms to be advocated: industry experts and paid consultants will do that regardless. Such reforms will arise in the normal cut and thrust of social movement and countermovement exchanges, media reportage, and as a result of countermovement and state-level dialogue. (emphasis added)

Now this is an interesting claim, and Yates links to the work of Richard Gale – which explains the interplay between government agencies, social movements and counter-movements – to support his case.

As Gale tells it, in the absence of a social movement, the government agencies and counter-movement organizations (such as the National Dairy Council in the case of animal agriculture advocacy) will interact with and respond to each other.

Once a social movement begins to make claims against the industries which the government agencies regulate, both the government agencies and the counter-movement organizations interact with and respond to the social movement organizations.

This process, which Gale says has six basic steps, is what creates the welfare reform response from industry. Making claims for animal rights brings about welfare, so there’s no need to advocate for welfare reforms – they will happen without them having to be asked for.

But, and this is the point of this post, these claims for animal rights must be made against something, and not just made generally or generically. In other words, for an industry to respond to claims for animal rights, the claims must be made against the industry itself.

How could it be otherwise? It can’t be.

For example, let us consider a social movement whose focus is solely, or virtually solely, on creating new vegans. Such a social movement would make claims for animal rights, but it would make those claims on the behalf of other animals and against the interests of individual people.

That is to say, it would be a movement for personal responsibility and personal transformation. Suppose that such a movement explicitly rejects placing any pressure directly on industry or on the suppliers of animals and animal products.

Suppose that such a movement rejects nearly all interaction with industry through legislative or negotiated agreements or compromises. Suppose that such a movement rejects any public campaigning for the liberation of other animals, or any clandestine rescues of other animals.

Would such a movement be doing anything that would cause a government agency or a counter-movement organization to respond to it? No, of course not.

In the absence of pressure and demands from a social movement against an industry, there’s nothing for a government agency or counter-movement to respond to. In the face of such a movement, one which demands nothing from industry at all, the industry will remain unchanged.

Naturally, a social movement which calls for people to adopt veganism might eventually create so many vegans that the reduction in demand for the products derived from other animals would cause the industries which supply those products to collapse.

But in the meantime, such a movement could not result in any meaningful improvements in the lives of other animals as they remain enslaved in the systems of exploitation.

At the same time, as a moral matter, those who advocate for the basic rights of individual nonhuman animals cannot advocate for welfare reforms. As I have argued elsewhere:

Since nothing less than abolishing exploitation satisfies our moral obligations, we cannot support those efforts which do not seek to abolish exploitation. However appealing the intuitive ‘pull’ of doing something ‘now’ for others may be, when that something is only a modification and extension of exploitation, then it violates our moral principle against exploitation. We cannot support it and stay consistent to our principles. Therefore, regulating or reforming current systems and methods of exploitation is unacceptable.

But clearly, in the absence of immediate total liberation of other animals, those who work for the abolition of exploitation would welcome those welfare reforms that might happen, even while they themselves would not advocate for them. It’s not immoral to accept actual improvements in the lives of others; on the contrary, we’d think it unconscionable not to accept such improvements.

So what is an abolitionist to do?

Two things.

First, advocate for veganism and for the recognition of the basic rights of other animals. All actions must be consistent with this and must work to undermine speciesism.

Second, make demands on industry and exploiters. The industry and the exploiters will only respond to demands made on them; they won’t respond to calls that people “go vegan”.

The first step is simple enough. Go vegan yourself andunderstand the rights-based argument against speciesism and exploitation. Then, talk to everyone you come into contact with about the reasons why they should stop using other animals.

The second step is more complicated.

Open rescues, boycotts of industry and other focused events which call out exploitative industries are all ways by which advocates for other animals can make demands on industry.

Take a look at the good work Igualdad Animal has done, consistent with a rights-based approach, that causes a public reaction against exploitative industries. These kinds of actions will result in government agencies and counter-movement organizations interacting with and responding to a social movement.

Another tactic which might work would be a concerted effort on the part of local activists and advocates to request, en masse, vegan alternatives from local businesses. For example, if survey data is to believed, there should be about 2,000 vegans living in the same county as I do.

Were we all to write letters and make phone calls to local businesses requesting vegan alternatives they would probably respond to our requests (and then we would have to honor their responses by patronizing them).

In either case, both with respect to the kinds of direct action undertaken by Igualdad Animal as well as the citizen activism I sketch out, there would be a terrific potential for media attention. In fact, it’s been reported that 2.3 million people in Spain watched a recent televised report of one of Igualdad Animal’s open rescues of dogs bred for use in medical experimentation.

One can imagine the phone calls from constituents to politicians demanding changes in the practices of purpose breeding dogs for vivisection. That’s a social movement making a difference in the lives of actual living animals. It’s more than do-nothing-ism. It’s activism.

As you think about how best to utilize your valuable time, consider what you want to happen in the world around you. If you want exploitation to end, then go vegan, and ask others to as well.

If, between now and the time exploitation finally does end you want there to be meaningful differences in the lives of other animals, then do something more. We must make demands of industry, for only then will they respond.

Tim Gier is a vegan abolitionist writer whose former career in automobile sales management spanned 25 years. He writes about business, politics, human behavior and sometimes pop culture at his blog, where this post first appeared and is republished under a Creative Commons licence.


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