Wayne Hsiung

Published on:

February 2, 2014

Animal Rights & The Work Environment

We had a great discussion led by Priya Sawhney this weekend regarding animal rights in the workplace.

Some of the questions pondered:

- Is the work environment an appropriate place to engage in animal rights advocacy?

The general consensus was that, yes, the work environment, like most of our other social environments, can be a wonderful place to engage in advocacy. We spend so much time with our co-workers in modern life, in fact, that it would be a waste to not at least bring the issue up.  

- What sorts of risks are there in workplace advocacy?

We split up the risks into two broad categories. Risks of being fired (and therefore losing our ability to survive, which is not good for our movement!) and risks of being demoralized or diminished by co-workers antagonistic or mocking responses.

With respect to the former, while we have all heard some horror stories about people being fired for activity on social media such as facebook or twitter, everyone in our discussion felt that there were ways to avoid this sort of controversy – while still being an advocate for animals in the workplace. Notably, framing criticisms as directed at broader traditions and institutions (rather than directly lashing out at individuals, particularly your boss) seemed to avoid the most serious risk of being fired.

With respect to the latter – the risks of being diminished – there was discussion of finding allies in the workplace. With one person, it’s easy to be diminished, but finding at least one other co-worker who agrees with your sentiments on animal abuse can make a big difference in the effectiveness of your advocacy.

- How can we engage in advocacy?

There were two general approaches suggested, depending on the nature of your work. If the work environment is one that is open to social justice issues, being very up front and strong can be extremely effective. A few of our discussants spoke about how framing the issue very strongly – for example, being very direct about the suffering of animals and drawing clear personal boundaries (e.g. refusing to eat with others while they eat animals) – has caused increased respect and discussion around animal issues.

In cultures where that approach may not be appropriate, we discussed a Weapons of the Weak approach, as discussed by Yale Professor James Scott in a recent book. The idea is that there may be passive ways to resist – and, at a minimum, maintain one’s morale and conviction, and perhaps eventually obtain support from other passive resisters – that do not flag immediate attention from higher-ups. For example, one discussant mentioned refusing workforce obligations that involved serving animal products. Another mentioned using work resources for activism, without express permission from one’s boss. While small, these acts of resistance can accumulate toward building up greater organizational awareness of and even resistance to animal abuse.

- How should we respond if someone lashes out at us?

Find support! We talked about how directly battling with a  co-worker over some animal issue might not be ideal. But finding support, whether inside the organization or in one’s broader community (e.g. DxE), could help maintain morale and confidence in the face of teasing or even hostility in the workplace.

If there was a theme to the day’s discussion, it was that, even when we feel isolated, we don’t have to go it alone! There are so many resources, informational, social, and even economic, that can assist us in being effective advocates, even in the workplace!