When will animal cruelty go out of fashion?

When will animal cruelty go out of fashion?

Photo by AJ Robbie on Unsplash

By Prof. Dr Wayne Visser

Dr Wayne Visser is Professor of Integrated Value and holds the Chair in Sustainable Transformation at Antwerp Management School. He is also Fellow at the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.

Every year, more than 150 billion animals are slaughtered, ending their extremely short lives having endured unspeakable suffering under barbaric factory-farming conditions, to satisfy insatiable human appetites for food and clothing. I am undeniably dismayed by this situation, but I am certainly not surprised. We have been killing animals to eat and stay warm (or fashionable) for thousands, perhaps even millions of years.

What I do find surprising, however, especially as an academic working on corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainable development for the past three decades, is how seldom animal rights makes it onto the ethical agendas of business, government and civil society. In this short reflective piece, I want to examine why this is – and more importantly, why the situation is now rapidly changing, happily for the better.

To begin, then, what are the reasons for our ethical blind-spot when it comes to animal welfare? There are a number of plausible explanations. First, some might wonder whether there is an ethical issue at all. They might still believe – often in line with their religious dogmas – that animals were placed on this earth solely for our exploitation. Therefore, it is our right to breed them and treat them and eat them how and when we like.

Then there is the widely held belief that animals are inferior in every way to humans and do not have intelligence, feel emotions, experience suffering, or need to enjoy a good quality of life, as we do. In fact, this has been thoroughly disproved by science – especially in the case of mammals, and even for birds and fish – but that doesn’t change the convenient and pervasive belief.

Another argument is that it is far more urgent and important to take care of human suffering by tackling poverty and human rights abuses. Not to mention other crises as well, like climate change and political corruption and economic growth. The unspoken needs of animals are simply too far down the list of critical priorities. And nowadays, livestock are killed quickly and ‘humanely’, so what’s the fuss anyway?

Of course, not everyone has such a cold-hearted, callous, self-serving perspective. For over 50 years, activists have been trying to bring the plight of animals to the public’s attention. Beauty Without Cruelty, for example, was founded in 1965. And Greenpeace launched in 1970 to stop the barbarism of commercial whaling and seal culling. But these have remained marginal voices for decades, until today.

Today, animal welfare is rising up the public agenda almost by accident, due to a series of unfortunate events. In the past few years, human-induced climate change has been established as a scientific fact and serious global crisis (accepted by all but the most ignorant, narcissistic and sociopathic among us). And as a result, the spotlight has started to shine brightly on the agricultural sector in general and the livestock industry in particular.

Overall, agriculture accounts for 70% of global freshwater consumption, 38% of total land use and 19% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions; and within these numbers, the footprint of meat and dairy production is particularly high. The broader food industry accounts for more than a quarter (26%) of climate-causing greenhouse gas emissions, which is higher than transportation, for example.

And it turns out that diets make a big difference. In fact, according the Project Drawdown, which studied and ranked the top 100 solutions to climate change, switching to a more plant-based diet is the fourth-most effective action we can take right now. An Oxford University study found that a switch to veganism by 2050 could cut emissions by 70%, while saving eight million lives and trillions of dollars in healthcare costs.

To make this impact more concrete, if you were to eat beef 3-5 times a week, you would create a carbon footprint of 1,611 kg per year, which is the equivalent of driving a regular petrol car 4,112 miles (6,618 km), or heating the average UK home for 255 days. By comparison, eating beans once a day creates a carbon footprint of 20 kg per year, the same as driving 53 miles (86 km) or heating the average UK home for 3 days.

This is one of the reasons why veganism has taken off in the past few years. Growth in the UK has exceeded 700% in the past 2 years and now accounts for 7% of the population, while in the US, it has grown 600%, from 1% in 2014 to 6% in 2017. And since veganism is not just a dietary choice but also a lifestyle choice – based on not harming animals or using animal products – this has had knock-on effects for the fashion industry as well.

For example, we now see an explosion of the global faux leather market, which is set to hit $85 billion by 2025, according to a 2017 report by Grand View Research (GVR). Similarly, there has been a 135% growth in vegan cosmetics since 2013, according to Mintel’s Global New Products Database (GNPD). Meanwhile, vegan fashion brands like Steinmetz, Jakke, Ministry of Tomorrow, Cult Gaia and Marais USA are booming.

Donning my (pineapple-leather) academic hat, I foresee a rapid uptake of animal cruelty-free and vegan textiles in the next 2-5 years, as part of CSR and sustainability programs in business. This applies not only to the fashion industry, but to companies from every sector that consume billions of items of workwear – from uniforms and high-visibility jackets to suits and health-and-safety shoes.

To conclude on a personal note, as someone who made the choice to be vegetarian more than 30 years ago and to be vegan just over 2 years ago – in both instances primarily driven by a concern for animal welfare – I can only say that the change cannot come too soon. Animal cruelty must go out of fashion, fast! There are billions of sentient creatures who share the web of life on this beautiful planet. Our survival may not depend on them, but our dignity and humanity does.



Share this
EU Financing for SME Development in Latvia Tackling the refugee crisis: a business opportunity
Related Posts:

SDG8: Economic growth for sustainable future

Although the number of workers living in extreme poverty is showing a substantial decline over the past 25 years, and the middle class now makes up more than 34 percent of total employment, the world economy is still facing serious challenges ahead.

Initiatives and obstacles to reaching SDG4

Every single country in the world is challenged to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. One of those goals, SDG4, is concerned with education policy issues which are not part of the international development agenda, but are of great value to the OECD member and partner countries.

Are bike lanes are as sustainable as they seem?

In the Strong Towns podcast, “Are Bike Lanes White Lanes,” speaker and author of the book “Bike Lanes are White Lanes,” Melody Hoffmann identifies a critical urban design problem in bike lane infrastructure—addressing in-depth how bike lanes are not as “sustainable” as they seem, and can often deepen issues of classism, racism, and displacement.

Thinking about flight shaming, ethical travel and consumption options

So it seems traveling by train for longer distances takes around 10x longer than flight but is around 10x less carbon intensive. So yes, traveling by train can be a good choice for activists like Greta Thunberg, but also for regular people. But in another article I read that Greta Thunberg wants to avoid flying to the US and travel by a boat.

How can complexity science improve education?

One frequent mistake in social innovations and education, is to assume one-fits-all approach to solving social problems. We need to realize that managing in complex systems requires radically different tools than managing in complicated systems or chaotic systems.

Millennials are driving interest in sustainable investment

Sustainable, socially responsible or ESG (environmental, social and governance) investing is on the rise. A recent survey from Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing has found that millennials are leading the way with nearly nine in ten (86%) of them being interested in sustainable investing.

How can Slovakia contribute to global prosperity after #AllForJan?

Slovakia is a relatively young country, still in its twenties. For most of our recent history since the late 1990s we prided ourselves in being a “Tatra Tiger”, a fast growing emerging economy with a strong manufacturing base (think Volkswagen) and highly skilled and productive workers at business process offshoring centers (think Accenture).

Interview with Andrea Casadio, the creator of AllerGenio

How to help people who are affected by allergies and food intolerance?
A search engine can identify allergens in a database of more than eighteen thousand ingredients, scientifically validated by the laboratory of Human Health Sciences, University of Florence: this is AllerGenio , online platform which is a great help for allergic and intolerant people , since it recognizes the substances to be avoided in food.

You are What You Eat and Why Do You Eat?

The idea that you are what you eat has been a prevailing belief in many cultures throughout the history. For example, the ancient Aztecs would eat the brain of their rivals because they believed it gave them the wisdom and knowledge of the enemy.

Assuming global responsibility by closing all the loops

Closing all the loops is a very similar idea of assuming global responsibility – for the whole of our actions but also for people in faraway places. Closing all the loops thus shall be also an integral part of Agenda 2030 and applies to various Sustainable Development Goals, beyond the SDG12 of Responsible Consumption.

ASSOCIAZIONE RiSvolta – The Colors of Rights

The RiSvolta Association is a non profit social promotion association that aims to build a society in which human and civil rights are recognized, promoted and guaranteed for all citizens, without discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or any other personal and social condition, in line with what is established by Article 3 of the Italian Constitution.

Sustainable modes of city

Creating an intelligent human society enables the development of sustainable cities in terms of environmental protection and economic and technological development. Sustainable cities rely on the digital city infrastructure to build intelligent buildings, transport systems, schools, and businesses.

Risk less as you go sustainable

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has gained a growing importance, during the last years, among academics, managers and citizens and its impact on firm’s performance is the center of several debates worldwide. As a matter of fact, according to the majority of CEOs worldwide, CSR is considered an “important” or “very important” task for their firms (UN Global Compact-Accenture).

Towards Sharing Economy: Joy of a shared toy

With each passing day, the world is more and more convinced that the economy system we are used to living in, is not sustainable. Climate change and resource depletion, followed by enormous consumption are some of the main problems that the world is facing nowadays. But now, more than ever, there is an emergence of companies that are moving further away from this way of doing business and might have a solution for these problems. Those companies are the main representatives of sharing economy.

7 CSR Trends that will dominate 2019

2019 will be a promising year of corporate citizenry and impact. Reporting, Community engagement, employee training, betterment campaigns and market feedback are all aligning to support a higher level of CSR activity than ever before.

The Collettivo Donne Matera

The goal of the Collettivo is to contribute to the creation of a society that is as fair and inclusive as possible where social support, public health and education services, economic resources and employment opportunities can be guaranteed and adequate to a dignified life for all.

There are results in SDG action!

The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2018 provides insight of the progress in the third year of implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Slovak SDG Priorities

On 13 November we at the Pontis Foundation organized our annual CEE CSR Summit in Bratislava and also held a discussion roundtable on SDGs.

Getting to know “Il Sicomoro”, a Social Cooperative in Matera

“Il Sicomoro” is the Italian translation of the sycamore, which looks like a fig tree and it is very popular in the Middle East. It is a common “character” along the streets in Palestine, where it leaves splashes of colour on those biblical landscapes, apparently very similar to the ones in our Lucania.

Sustainable Cooking

When talking about SDG2, we always talk about how to prevent world hunger and what can be done to save people from it. We talk about ways of helping people who don't have enough to eat and improving the access of all people to a healthy diet, but we rarely speak about one way that can also have a positive impact on ending hunger – sustainable cooking.

That’s Absurd! The “Assurd” risto-pub experience with sustainability

On average, income inequality increased by 11 per cent in developing countries between 1990 and 2010.
Disability is referenced in various parts of the SDGs and specifically in those related to growth and employment, education, inequality, accessibility of human settlements, as well as data collection and monitoring of the SDGs.

The Conad sustainability challenge

Conad, the colossal of large retailers, has joined the Ecologistico2 program, devised by ECR Italia, the association that regroups the main production and distribution companies to improve the processes and efficiency of the supply chain, from the producer to the consumer.


Have you ever wondered whatever happened to the left-over food you did not finish in fast food restaurants? You may think they would have been thrown away and discarded for good. But what happens next is something you ought to know.

Community of people to share ideas and projects

Among the trends related to sustainability that have been proliferating in the last years, certainly the shared creative spaces stand out. One of these is “Casa Netural”, a house in Matera in southern Italy, hosting people from all around the world...

SDGs Integration: How to Do It Right?

Current tendency towards sustainability promotes versatile ways for responsibility and integration of SDGs into business models, organizational culture, policy making, urban planning and spatial development...

The Decades Long Quest for a Digital Aristotle

Aristotle was probably the best tutor in the world and the most knowledgeable person of his times. But still his student, Alexander the Great, went on to conquer half of the world. Being smart it seems, doesn’t automatically translate into being...

SDG 2: Sustainable Food Production

Agriculture’s enormous energy consumption is related not only to food production, but also in large part to food distribution. The environmental benefits of organic food production can be lost if the food is constantly being transported thousands of miles to reach consumers. Buying local seasonal food can be an...

Collaboration for the SDGs

Monitoring and encouragement of SDG practices at European level is a challenge, as it is both international and national level activity. The alliance SDG Watch Europe has a goal to hold governments and the EU to account for the implementation of the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development. It consists of...

The Sustainable Economy Is a Donut!

The objective number 12 of the Sustainable Development Goals aims to ensure sustainable patterns of consumption and production. Why is this an indispensable requirement for sustainable development? Because it is estimated that the world population will reach 9.6 billion by 2050, with this figure we would need the...

Closing the Loop: A Key Business Model for SDG 12

"Unless we go to Circular it's game over for the planet; it's game over for society." These are the opening words of the world’s first feature-length documentary film on the circular economy, called Closing the Loop, due for public release on Earth...

'Microcredit' to Serve the Sustainable Development

Since 2001, the Italian Banking Association has undertaken an in-depth study on the subject of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and its strategic importance within the modern banking business model. Consequently, in recent years an...

The Need to Innovate Beauty Industry

Have you ever thought of the highly underestimated cost we pay for everything we consume? And I am not talking here about the price we pay for solely acquiring goods. What I have in mind is slightly more overlooked and all-encompassing, which is each product's afterlife cost, e.g. the amount of resources it takes to...

The Future of Sustainable Finance

Last week I attended the London meeting of the The Future of Sustainable Finance at the G7. The panel of knowledgeable experts provided a fascinating discussion. It touched on many of the areas raised in the detailed 2018 report by the EU’s High-Level Expert Group on Sustainable Finance. For financial institutions, the report...

Are Sustainable Development Goals Material?

The SDGs already achieved the significant work of creating a common platform of targets and indicators shared across governments, institutions, academia, investors, media, and business. And this is not rhetoric. In the past few months, I’ve been in several conversations with business, academia, and investors concerning...

Can We Make Zero Poverty World or Not?

Despite the on-trend rhetoric and optimism, the chances of (all but) ending absolute poverty in our generation are slim. The chances of ending poverty altogether are zero. The closer we get to ending extreme poverty, the harder it is going to be to do it. We're going to have to pretty much end violent conflict...

SDGs for the Generation Z

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals were adopted in 2015 as the universal call to action to end poverty and hunger, protect the planet and ensure inclusion, peace and prosperity for all by 2030. Agenda 2030 is playing a very important role in shaping tomorrow’s living conditions. However, without active individual...

Focus on Sustainable Cities and Communities

Cities have often been a vehicle for generating new ideas, commerce, culture, science, productivity and social development, and up to the present they have also enabled people to improve their social and economic conditions. However, many challenges persist to keep city centres as places not dangerous for both lands...

Changing Mobility Habits for a Healthier Life

Contributing to the third Sustainable Development Goal capital city of Lithuania is creating a sustainable urban mobility plan (SUMP) for its inhabitants. SUMP has to encompass various mobility modes and variations and one of the themes of the city strategy is to plan how to change people’s behaviour in mobility...

Food and the Sustainable Development Goals

Food and agriculture feature prominently in many of the Sustainable Development Goals, because they are interconnected with almost all aspects of economy, environment and society, from hunger, malnutrition, desertification, sustainable water use, loss of biodiversity, to overconsumption, obesity and...