Animal advocates

Changing social perceptions of animal well-being impact all kinds of businesses

Jacqui Griffiths
6 June 2016

3 min read

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “One can measure the greatness and the moral progress of a nation by looking at how it treats its animals.” Today, as consumers become increasingly convinced that animals are sentient beings with legal rights, Gandhi’s standard is being applied to businesses as well.

Questions surrounding humanity’s treatment of animals are big news, and they evoke strong emotional responses. In 2015, outrage at the shooting of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe spread worldwide through broadcast and social media. Also in 2015, a lawsuit filed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in the US to have a crested macaque monkey declared the copyright owner of its selfie photographs raised the issue of whether animals should have the same rights as humans.

“There has been a progressive increase in beliefs about animal minds,” said Grahame Coleman, faculty professor of Veterinary & Agricultural Sciences at the University of Melbourne, Australia. “Work by Sarah Knight from the University of Portsmouth (UK) showed that, while medical researchers were more in favor of the use of animals in research than were pro-animal groups, both groups showed a strong belief in humanlike capacities in animals. Our own research indicates increasing awareness of the importance of livestock well-being among farmers as well as the general public, and a similar trend is occurring for cats and dogs among the general public.”


 In a commercially driven world, animals encourage humans to reassess their perceptions of value, said Sarah Fisher, a UK-based instructor of Tellington TTouch, a gentle approach to the care and training of all animals that also provides self-help for humans.
“We want to be valued, and animals act as barometers in this sense because they don’t care how much money you have; they care what you’ve got in your emotional bank account,” Fisher said. “People who engage with animals through TTouch often start shifting the focus of what is valuable to them. We had more people taking our courses during the recent financial crisis. People were saying, ‘Instead, of buying a new car, I want to reconnect with things that really offer value in life.’”


Perhaps because of their increased associations with human values, animals are increasingly powerful ambassadors for businesses. For example, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts is employing “canine ambassadors” in its luxury hotels in Canada. Fairmont offers special amenities to its canine and feline guests, including water and food bowls, treats, toys and pet sitters.

Evidence that animals help to reduce stress in humans is also leading businesses to embrace pets in the office. A study by the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia, found that employees who brought their dogs to work experienced lower stress levels, higher levels of job satisfaction and a more positive perception of their employer.

In medicine, reciprocity between humans and animals has the potential to generate better treatments as well as commercial opportunities. The One Health Initiative, in which human and veterinary researchers and clinicians work together to develop treatments for both markets, is growing in the US. Now the Humanimal Trust, a nonprofit based in the UK, is seeking to drive forward the adoption of One Medicine.

“Recent advances in genomics have helped us understand just how closely interlinked medicine is,” said Noel Fitzpatrick, professor, orthopaedicneuro veterinary surgeon and founder of the Humanimal Trust. “By working with veterinary partners, new innovations in the medical industry can be developed faster and more economically. You learn far more from working with a clinician who is treating real patients with naturally occurring diseases than you can from a laboratory animal model. Furthermore, the veterinary market is a major opportunity, and should be examined as another market segment in its own right.”


The relationship between humans and animals also is increasingly central to perceptions of ethical business. In 2015, for example, Mintel, a market intelligence firm with offices in 13 cities worldwide, questioned 1,500 UK consumers and found that 74% say meat coming from animals that are well looked after is among the top issues they consider when deciding whether a food company is ethical.

For companies that fail on animal welfare, the costs can be high. The UK-based Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return Initiative, which lobbies investors on animal welfare in intensive farming, cited the case of US-based meat packer Hallmark/ Westland in its report, “Factory Farming: Assessing Investment Risks.” When evidence of animal cruelty and health concerns emerged in 2008, Hallmark/Westland was forced into the biggest meat recall in US history. The report stated: “The recall cost them US$116 million (€100 million), but this was just the start of the costs and a further compensation settlement eventually forced the company into bankruptcy in 2012.”



Businesses that prioritize animal welfare stand to engage with some of the values consumers hold most dear. UK-based personal care products company Burt’s Bees, Belgium-based household cleaning products producer Ecover and Netherlands-based pet food manufacturer Yarrah Organic Petfood are just a few brands that are esteemed for their cruelty-free ethos.

“The world is watching closely as businesses operate and try to innovate,” Fitzpatrick said. “People appreciate animals as sentient beings, worthy of respect. Businesses need to adapt to this and to operate to high ethical standards.” ◆

See how the public reacted when Cecil the lion was killed:

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