What Can British Anti-Slavery Teach Us About Animal Advocacy?
Many animal advocates make comparisons with previous social movements in order to illustrate both their moral arguments and their ideas about how to make the movement’s efforts effective. Nevertheless, such comparisons have often been done in a relatively shallow and unreflective manner, making this thorough and careful analysis by Sentience Institute all the more necessary. This paper focuses on lessons that animal advocates can learn from the British anti-slavery Movement to make their own efforts to end animal farming as effective as possible.
The analysis begins by listing some of the most important lessons that the author believes we can learn from the British anti-slavery movement. These are then explored in more detail, at the end.
Some of the lessons this study highlights are in keeping with the conclusions of wider research into effective animal advocacy. For example, one of the main lessons is that advocates should focus more on institutional and political change, than on encouraging individual consumer change. The boycott of sugar grown on slave plantations in the U.K. played a small part in the movement, but peaked at around 4-6% of the population; by comparison, the “Free Produce” movement in the U.S. was significantly less successful. It seems likely that the political campaigning of anti-slavery advocates was significantly more important in their success than these consumer-focused efforts. Another conclusion that the author draws, mostly matches up to the views of other effective animal advocacy researchers: reforms to the animal agriculture industry are more likely to lead to momentum for further reform than to complacency towards the wellbeing of animals. However, this is as long as the reforms are framed as a step towards the end of animal agriculture, rather than as the end goal themselves.
Some of the other implications of the study are more specific. Most notably, the analysis suggests that animal advocates would do well to build towards a legislative campaign which significantly undermines the animal agriculture industry, before attempting to end it entirely. This is based on the precedent that anti-slavery advocates succeeded in their campaigns to ban the slave trade before all slaves were legally freed. There are a variety of other specific implications listed in detail at the end of the analysis.
Other conclusions from the study are more surprising and counter-intuitive. For example, it may actually be helpful if the animal agriculture industry fails to introduce reforms that it is asked to introduce, if animal advocates are able to use this to encourage anger at the industry.
Uses Of This Study
This report, and its implications, can be useful for all animal advocates. If advocates have used slavery comparisons as a rhetorical tool, the author’s introduction may help them to reflect on how to frame the comparison, without causing damage to the animal advocacy movement. Making comparisons between animal and human suffering can be controversial and alienating; this analysis has a careful and respectful justification, emphasizing that both human slaves and non-human animals have been discriminated against and treated as property.
Although the study devotes significant attention to considering the many ways in which the two contexts were very different, the similarities are significant enough to justify a comparison, and to enable advocates to increase their understanding of the effectiveness of different sorts of tactics from the experiences of the past. Sentience Institute has written elsewhere about the advantages and disadvantages of using such social movement studies as evidence to answer difficult questions within the animal advocacy movement.
Advocates who have used slavery comparisons to inform their understanding of animal advocacy can read the author’s own conclusions in the “strategic implications” section, to help them reflect on the validity of the comparisons and gain further insights. None of the implications, however, should be taken as conclusive. Firstly, the author notes there are many differences between the two social movements and their historical contexts. Secondly, the “strategic implications” are mostly reflections on how the features of the British anti-slavery movement relate to debates within animal advocacy; they aren’t conclusive proof that any of these features were decisive in achieving results. The analysis mainly focuses on noting a correlation between certain tactics and the end of slavery in the United Kingdom. It does not try to rigorously evaluate the relative importance of these different tactics in securing this goal.
If you haven’t thought about the slavery analogy in much depth before, reading the “condensed chronological history” may help advocates reflect on points of comparison and gain new strategic insights. Here, the author presents some of the key events of the British anti-slavery movement in a chronological narrative, to enable advocates in differing local situations to draw their own conclusions.