Sat, Jan-04-20, 02:30
Veganism is a philosophical belief? Bad news for leather sofas, good news for freedom
This just happened in the UK
Veganism is a philosophical belief? It's bad news for leather sofas, good news for freedom
If you’re the kind of employer who runs a mandatory staff trip to a bear-baiting pit, you’d better check the news. An employment tribunal has today found that ethical veganism is a philosophical belief, rather than just an opinion. The judge accepted that, in this case, veganism could be protected by the Equality Act. His judgement does not bind other tribunals, but it has been hailed as a significant victory for veganism.
Being a vegan, I have some skin in the game – non-leather-based skin, to be clear – but this is an important ruling for employers, employees, and, ultimately, the animals themselves. And on balance, it will be a good one, though it may pose some difficulties along the way.
First, a recap. The case was brought by Jordi Casamitjana, who said the League Against Cruel Sports – probably not an organisation in favour of bear-baiting – unfairly sacked him. He had told colleagues that its pension fund was being invested in companies involved in animal testing, and claimed that not only was he sacked for this disclosure but that the sacking was against the law.
Sure enough, the court ruled that ethical veganism satisfies the tests required for it to be a philosophical belief, and is therefore protected by law.
The ruling could still be appealed, but should it stand, employers may have to be more flexible in their pension schemes. Veganism coherently and reasonably rejects the abuse of animals, whether indirectly or directly. It is fair for vegans to object to their money being invested in animal testing, in the same way an environmentalist might object to funding big polluters, or a pacifist might object to their money being invested in arms. Pacifists are protected by the act; it is right that Britain's 600,000 vegans are given the same treatment.
The ramifications of the judgement could extend further than investment. Take the ways in which Casamitjana has defined his veganism. He doesn’t sit on leather sofas; he doesn’t allow non-vegan food in his home; and he prefers to walk short distances rather than take public transport, since a bus or train might kill insects or birds as it travels.
Casamitjana has been mocked for these strictures, which is understandable but ungenerous. People attempting to expand society’s moral circle should be taken seriously. What’s objectionable about not wanting to kill insects?
Casamitjana’s stance on public transport is unusual even within veganism, so the judgement is unlikely to provoke thousands of vegans to object to their commute. Nor is it likely to prompt fraudulent copycats: employees facing tribunal will still have to prove that their convictions are genuine.
It is certainly possible that employers will be inconvenienced by future claims. Maybe they'll have to provide more vegan lunches or reconsider the cleaning products they use. But given how quickly veganism is spreading, it is better to have this legal reckoning now than later. The question is not whether or not you agree with the principles of veganism, or whether you care about the good that this ruling will do for animals. It's whether you think commonly-held and justifiable moral viewpoints should be respected. Like any important principle, this is worth the likely inconvenience of upholding it.
You might find Casamitjana’s beliefs ridiculous, but lots of moral progress was seen as ridiculous in its time. It’s important that we allow each other the opportunity to make bona fide, evidence-based judgments about right and wrong, and if that means that some companies ensure their next sofa upgrades aren’t leather, then that’s fine by me.
Think about it another way. If, for some monstrous reason, you happened to have a sofa made of dog leather in your house, you wouldn’t make a dog-loving visitor sit on it. That isn’t overweening political correctness; it’s simple courtesy.
Be that as it may, I don’t think campaigning against pre-existing leather sofas is a good use of any vegan’s time or energy. Nor will I tell my employer I herewith refuse to sit in leather seats or use public transport or make tea for colleagues who drink dairy milk. There are much more broadly palatable causes to address, such as alleviating the appalling conditions inflicted on factory-farmed animals.
But if a belief is reasonable, thoughtful, and sincerely held, then we should accommodate it. We do it with religion; we should do it with veganism. Religious discrimination cases often balance the right to religious freedom with other rights, a perennial example being the slaughter of animals. The new judgement, in contrast, will not make any part of our lives any less humane. Quite the opposite.
Last edited by Demi : Sat, Jan-04-20 at 02:35.