What Ethical Veganism Ruling Means For Business Owners

  • UK Employment tribunal rules ethical veganism satisfies tests required for it to be considered a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010.
  • “We must develop and implement social policies and practices that give effect to our 
  • compassion for animals and their rights,” say legal experts.

NORWICH, United Kingdom — Last week, Britain saw a landmark ruling in which ethical veganism should be considered a “philosophical belief” protected in law – and it’s expected to have major implications for the workplace, says a legal expert for The Vegan Society

On 3rd January 2020, a UK employment tribunal found in favour of Jordi Casamitjana, who claims he was sacked by the League Against Cruel Sports because of his ethical veganism. 

The court ruled that ethical veganism satisfies the tests required for it to be considered a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010, meaning ethical vegans could be entitled to protection from discrimination in the workplace. 

The Vegan Society’s legal expert Jeanette Rowley told Welltodo she believes the decision will ensure vegans are provided for in the workplace, in public sector institutions and elsewhere. 

“If attending a catered work lunch a vegan has the right to be served vegan food,” she said. “If in hospital, a vegan has the right to be served vegan food. If leather shoes are required as part of the uniform, the company should look into providing a vegan alternative.” 

Rowley emphasised the ruling concerns only ethical vegans “who live according to their deeply held ethical conviction that using animals is wrong” rather than someone following a plant-based diet for Veganuary or someone who follows a vegan diet but uses animals in other ways of life, such as by wearing leather. 

However, she did suggest the case could encourage people who are looking to embrace a fully vegan lifestyle to do so with conviction. 

“This decision supports vegans and transitioning vegans by recognising the importance of their convictions and their protection under the Equality Act 2010,” she added. 

Far-reaching effects
This landmark case, coinciding with the annual Veganuary campaign that has run every January since 2014, has made headlines at a time when veganism has never been more on-trend. 

Vegan principles are influencing major retail sectors ranging from food, fashion, cosmetics and even real estate. 

Last January The Hilton Bankside unveiled a fully vegan suite – complete with organic buckwheat pillows and leather-free furniture – catering specifically for ethically-conscious travellers. 

This week fast-food chain Burger King came under fire for launching a new plant-based burger “not suitable for vegans or vegetarians” because it is cooked on the same grill as those used for meat. 

And while the Norwich tribunal ruling was met with celebration by some when reported on Twitter, it was equally met with derision by others suggesting it’s a case of political correctness gone too far. 

“This ruling will have important and far-reaching effects,” commented the BBC’s legal correspondent Clive Coleman. 

“Employers will have to respect ethical veganism and make sure they do not discriminate against employees for their beliefs,” he said, providing an example of an employee on a supermarket checkout refusing to scan a meat product. 

“The implications are considerable, not least because the legal protection will apply beyond employment, in areas such as education and the supply of goods and services.” 

Countering, Rowley said: “It’s not about prioritising vegans or putting us on a special pedestal. It’s making sure that vegan needs are accommodated by employers where possible, in a similar way that religious needs are accommodated, for example by building prayer rooms or providing suitable food for Muslims or Jews.” 

“Employers have a duty not to discriminate, therefore they need to show they’ve made an effort to accommodate the vegan. 

Adding: “While it is possible to provide vegan food or provide non-leather footwear, it may not be possible, for example, for a vegan supermarket worker to be exempt from dealing with meat, dairy and egg products because it’s the nature of the job. “It’s a very common-sense approach.” 

Veganism on-trend
A quick Google search for veganism shows an increase of 550 percent over the last five years. During that time veganism has risen by 300% in the UK, up to 650,000 while the US has jumped from 0.4% of its population to almost 3.5% that identify as “vegan”. However, there is no official data for the numbers of vegans globally and statistics can be somewhat distorted by those who identify as vegan and those who simply follow a plant-based diet. 

Also, often veganism is lumped under vegetarianism. For example, a 2016 report by Euromonitor found the global market for vegan products was worth $51 billion, but this also included vegetarian products.

Weight management, environmental concerns and animal welfare are the most common motivators, with around 360,000 people describing themselves as lifestyle vegans who only use or buy cosmetics and clothes free-from animal products. 

And with that growth, the UK market for meat-free foods is also on the rise, reported to be worth £740 million in 2018, according to market research group Mintel, up from £539 million in 2015. 

With 250,000 people pledging to go vegan last January, up from 170,000 in 2018, enthusiasm for the movement is showing no signs of slowing down but the ethical implications for employees and employers are only just starting to be felt. 

“A society that respects veganism and accommodates vegans also gives expression to the undisputed moral standing and rights of non-human animals,” added Rowley. 

“We must develop and implement social policies and practices that give effect to our compassion for animals and their rights.” 

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