We Demand Justice For Animals. What About People?
The farmed animal protection movement (FAPM) faces off against one of the most powerful and entrenched industries in the world: animal agriculture. To achieve our goals for animals, we need all hands on deck. But the movement is still largely white, which can lead to homogenous thinking and hinder progress. Furthermore, many mainstream advocates have no idea what life is like living next to a factory farm, wondering where their next meal is coming from, or working in the brutal conditions of a slaughterhouse. In other words, as a movement, we have failed to include those most affected by animal agriculture. And those people are mostly Black, Indigenous or People of the Global Majority (BIPGM).
To answer questions about racial equity in our movement, the nonprofit organization Encompass sought to learn about the experiences of people of the global majority so we can identify our shortcomings and map out a path for improvement. Encompass commissioned Equity Based Dialog for Inclusion (EBDI) and enlisted support from Faunalytics to conduct surveys and interviews with U.S.-based farmed animal nonprofit leaders, staff members, and funders:
- Individual surveys – 149 respondents, 26% BIPGM
- Interviews – 23 leaders, 11 funders, 15% BIPGM
- Interviews – 11 FAPM staff or volunteers, 73% BIPGM
- Demographic survey – 18 FAPM organizations
From the data collected, researchers created a set of seven recommendations across three categories. The first three items focus on recognizing and acknowledging the harms caused to BIPGM from racial discrimination in the movement. The next two suggest ways to reconcile with those we have harmed and excluded from our movement. The final two recommendations offer specific actions that movement leaders can take to begin to rectify some of the ongoing injustices. The recommendations are as follows.
- Work to end exclusionary practices in the movement. View diverse experiences and ideas as assets, and reconsider what’s “effective.”
Respondents indicated that the dominant culture in FAPM defines “right” approaches to activism while dismissing other approaches. This “right/wrong” mindset may be at least partially driven by the Effective Altruism philosophy to maximize effectiveness. Also, many mainstream groups emphasize non-human animals to such an extent that they overlook how systems of animal oppression also harm marginalized humans, such as slaughterhouse workers and people who live in communities with factory farms. Black veg*n activists may be highly effective in their communities by focusing on the health or food security aspects of a plant-based diet, but these approaches are often excluded from discussions of effectiveness. The researchers point out that false dichotomies and single-track mindsets hinder movement progress.
- Recognize BIPGM-led organizations as peers in the movement and work to build bridges with grassroots organizations.
Despite their effectiveness, the mainstream movement has not widely given credence to BIPGM-led entities that emphasize multi-issue approaches and work at the intersections of race, environment, labor, food aid, and animal welfare. Stemming from this, BIPGM advocates often feel excluded from the FAPM’s white-dominant and culturally-exclusive approach. The negative reactions of some donors to FAPM organizations that expressed support for Black Lives Matter have only exacerbated these perceptions. The authors note that the FAPM movement would benefit from building coalitions with BIPGM-led organizations and seeking opportunities to ally with other anti-oppression causes.
- Acknowledge the harms that BIPGM experience in the movement. These harms can result from racism, unconscious bias, and practices that marginalize them.
BIPGM movement members continue to experience both microaggressions and overt hostility. BIPGM respondents in the study describe being sidelined, stereotyped, tokenized, and ignored. They are subject to discriminatory hiring practices and more often accused of misconduct at their organizations. Their ideas of alignment between animal rights and other social justice issues are often dismissed. Unsurprisingly, BIPGM advocates leave the movement at a higher rate than white advocates. For the FAPM, the only way forward is to not only recognize these inequities, but also to develop meaningful policy solutions that specifically combat race-related harm.
- Work to heal damage and build trust through dialogue about racial equity.
Many respondents who witnessed or experienced harm reported a strong desire for healing, trust-building, and improving diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice within their organizations. However, this work is best done with expert guidance to avoid creating further rifts. Some organizations reported greater efforts to hire BIPGM staff and board members, though this can leave some BIPGM advocates feeling tokenized. The researchers recommend three types of facilitated dialogue to support a more equitable movement: A dialogue for white advocates to educate themselves around racism and white supremacy culture; a more advanced dialogue surrounding issues of racial equity between white advocates and BIPGM advocates who choose to attend; and a dialogue for peace-building and conflict resolution.
- Recognize human exploitation in animal agriculture. Seek opportunities to collaborate with those harmed in this way.
Laborers in animal agriculture are sometimes demonized by animal advocates as part of the problem. However, this puts the blame on people who are also harmed by the system and shifts it away from the true perpetrators of harm, including large farm owners and meat company executives. Many respondents suggested that exploring the intersection of human and non-human animal mistreatment could offer opportunities to collaborate against a common foe. Furthermore, FAPM organizations with a single-issue mission should reevaluate their commitments as part of their work towards systemic justice.
- Gather data on the social identities of staff and board members to uncover inequities in organizational makeup.
FAPM organizations don’t consistently track the racial makeup of their staff, boards, donors, or volunteers. This makes it difficult to gauge how organizations are faring in their efforts to promote equity. In the survey responses from this study, of the 16 organizations for which farmed animal protection efforts constituted at least 50% of their budgets, only two were BIPGM-led. The person in the top leadership position of all 16 entities was white, and over half were men. Gathering racial data on a regular basis is a first step towards improving these inequities by identifying where we’re falling short.
- Expand the movement’s views of effectiveness to enhance funding opportunities for BIPGM-led entities.
Funders aligned with EA provide significant resources to animal protection efforts. As a result, many FAPM organizations follow the principles and practices of Effective Altruism. They emphasize quantifiable metrics in terms of the number of animals saved, even if the actual outcomes produce other negative consequences. Groups working at the intersection of animal and social justice may be overlooked for funding or lack the type of data needed to secure funding from Effective Altruism-aligned donors. To rectify this, the researchers suggest that funders broaden their criteria for what’s considered effective and include factors such as adherence to diversity, equity, and inclusion best practices.
Continuing to ignore issues of racism in the farmed animal protection movement is not an option. Changing how we operate to the benefit of humans and animals is not only the right thing to do, it’s also the effective thing to do. To make strides in this direction, we must confront the movement’s historical lack of racial equity and recognize how the oppression of BIPGM continues to play out within our own organizations. BIPGM advocates will engage with us fully only when they see themselves represented on our boards, in our leadership, on our staff rosters, or as public voices for animals. Anything less, and we risk perpetuating harm while losing the battle to end animal agriculture.