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Explained: UK court says ‘ethical veganism’ is a philosophical belief. What is it?

'The Ethical Case for Veganism' in the Oxford Handbook of Food Ethics, loosely defines veganism as a lifestyle choice to refrain from eating meat as well as products made from or by animals.

Written by Mehr Gill , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi | Published: January 4, 2020 4:08:22 pm
Explained: UK court says 'ethical veganism' is a philosophical belief. What is it? Jordi Casamitjana outside the court in Norwich, England, Friday, Jan. 3, 2020. (Nick Ansell/PA via AP)

An employment tribunal in the United Kingdom has ruled that “ethical veganism” is a philosophical belief protected by British law against discrimination.

What the petitioner, defence and court said

The man who brought the case, Jordi Casamitjana, claimed that he was fired from an animal welfare charity, The League Against Cruel Sports, for raising concerns about its pension funds’ alleged investment in companies that use animal testing.

He also claimed that he was “unfairly disciplined” for making the disclosure, and said that he was dismissed by his employer for his vegan beliefs.

The charity said that it fired Casamitjana for gross misconduct, and that it wanted to ban fox-hunting and other types of recreational hunting in Britain.

The tribunal had to determine if ethical veganism fit the criteria of a religious or philosophical belief.

Judge Robin Postle of the employment tribunal determined that ethical veganism meets the test required to be a philosophical belief, because of which it is protected under The Equality Act, 2010.

In September 2019, George Conisbee, a vegetarian, claimed that he was discriminated at his workplace for not eating meat. In his case, the tribunal had dismissed the case, calling his vegetarianism a lifestyle choice.

Veganism, ethical veganism, and ethical vegetarianism

Broadly, a vegan person does not consume meat products and also products that are derived from animals (such as milk, eggs, etc).

‘The Ethical Case for Veganism’ in the Oxford Handbook of Food Ethics, loosely defines veganism as a lifestyle choice to refrain from eating meat as well as products made from or by animals.

Ethical veganism, on the other hand, has been defined as the view that attaches a positive ethical valuation to a vegan lifestyle.

Significantly, ethical veganism is different from ethical vegetarianism — the latter makes a distinction between products made from animals, such as meat, and products made by animals, such as milk.

Ethical vegetarianism is opposed to products made from animals in particular.

There is also an ethical omnivorism, which permits the use of some animal products and may restrict the use of others based on some ethical criterion, say the authors of the Food Ethics paper.

They mention two types of ethical veganism: broad absolutist veganism, under which it is always wrong to use any product made by or from animals, and modest ethical veganism, under which it is typically wrong to use products made from or by a range of animals including cats, dogs, cows, pigs, etc.

An example of the former category is a person who would not press a leather button, “even if doing so were necessary in order to avert global nuclear war”.

The reasons for adopting veganism as a lifestyle can range from wanting a better and healthier lifestyle, environmental, or religious reasons.

A 2015 paper titled, ‘The Religion of Ethical Veganism’ published in the ‘Journal of Animal Ethics’ argued that ethical veganism and vegetarianism should be protected under United States law since they met the definition of religion under the law.

Britain’s Equality Act

The Equality Act, 2010, protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in the wider society in the UK. The Act offers a basic framework of protection against direct and indirect discrimination, harassment, and victimisation in services and public functions, etc.

The Act’s provisions relating to work include making pay secrecy laws unenforceable, giving employment tribunals the power to make recommendations that benefit the wider workforce, and extending protection to religion or belief.

Under the Act, a belief is defined as any religious or philosophical belief. Since the tribunal has ruled that ethical veganism is a philosophical belief, it is a protected characteristic under the Act.

For a belief to be considered as a philosophical belief under the Act, it needs to be a belief — and not an opinion or a viewpoint based on the present state of information; it should be genuinely held; it should concern a “weighty” and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour; it should be “worthy of respect in a democratic society”; and it should be held with “sufficient cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance”.

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