In the first of a new series of articles on vegan legal issues from an international perspective, contributed by lawyer Ralf Müller-Amenitsch who is kindly compiling the series, we welcome this insightful and informative article written by Dr. Jeanette Rawley, Chair of The Vegan Society’s International Rights Network.
Dr. Rawley from the UK here shares her professional view on the decison of ethical veganism being a protected belief under UK antidiscriminatory law. Ethical veganism (and vegetarianism) has been declared as protected belief by Art 9 of the European Rights convention by several court decisions of the European court of human rights. See application Nos. 7511/76; 7743/76,18187/9141415 0,085
In this tradition the UK’s decision is a pioneering decision, giving a blueprint for further court decisions in the EU based on the EU anti-discrimination directive. In the long run, we can probably expect, that in all member states ethical veganism will be recognised as protected belief under the national antidiscriminatory rules.
Business on a plate? Catering for Vegans Beyond Food
Dr. Jeanette Rowley*
In January 2020, an employment tribunal in the United Kingdom considered whether veganism qualified as a belief in the application of UK equality law. The case was brought by a long-term vegan who argued that he was unjustifiably dismissed after raising concerns that employee pension contributions were being invested in unethical companies, including some that conduct experiments on animals. At a preliminary hearing, the tribunal confirmed that the beliefs of ‘ethical’ vegans meet the legal test for protection under the UK Equality Act 2010. The ruling is significant and influential across both the public and private sectors.
Benefitting from the protected characteristic ‘religion or belief’, UK vegans are protected from discrimination as consumers of goods and services, in employment and when in the care or control of the state, such as in education, healthcare contexts, custody and prison.
The increase in vegan food, now available in the UK private sector, will no doubt be utilised by the public sector in the provision of vegan food in schools, care homes, hospitals and in prisons. Additionally, the court ruling offers potential for business growth beyond the supply of vegan food.
Following the court decision, employers are amending their policies to avoid inadvertently discriminating against vegan employees. The UK Fire and Rescue Service is automatically issuing vegan friendly, personal, protective equipment (PPE) to vegan firefighters; namely shoes, boots and gloves, and is even trying to find a suitable alternative to the standard issue safety helmet which currently has a leather chin strap.
The Fire and Rescue Service is not the only public sector employer with a duty to provide compliant personal protective safety wear to employees, and, of course, such essential provisions are not only required for employees in the public sector. The police force issues uniform items, including belts with special holders and pouches, security and other employees, such as museum staff, wear uniforms, health care workers, construction workers, mechanics and warehouse staff are issued with boots, shoes and gloves.
Vegan prisoners are also issued with shoes and/or boots, and a range of other provisions for vegans will also now be more sought after, including university graduation attire, animal-free teaching and learning aids, such as art materials for pupils and students, and other vegan training materials, such as suitable cosmetics.
Equality, diversity and inclusion measures place the public sector under a duty to monitor, record and report on the steps it takes to comply with the duty not to discriminate. This means that the supply and provision of items suitable for vegans are fundamental to providing required evidence and, given the popularity and growth of veganism, demand for suitable items could increase quite quickly.
The need to supply items suitable for vegans could also bring about a transformation in default provisions because they are suitable for, and can be issued to, all who need them, while garments and products made from animal skin or hair are not inclusive. In terms of law, there is no requirement to provide personal, protective equipment items made from animal skin, therefore, procurement departments might find it more efficient and cost-effective to phase out existing leather and wool uniform and footwear stock which would result in a higher demand compliant vegan friendly versions.
The recent UK court ruling confirms that vegans are protected in law and has additional value. It will generate the procurement of vegan-friendly alternatives to current animal-based, standard issue goods, and has the potential to transform procurement policy and, thereby, contribute to the elimination of animal suffering and support the transition to compassionate social and regulatory policies.”
Mr Müller-Amenitsch says further, “If the reader is interested in more detailed information on this topic, I can recommend the publication (Urteilssammlung Veggy Food , Behrs Verlag 2020, Dr. Elisabeth Gottwald / Ralf Müller-Amenitsch, a collection of court decisons on vegan legal issues.”
*Dr Jeanette Rowley is the Chair of The Vegan Society’s International Rights Network. www.vegansociety.com Mr J Casamitjana Costa v The League Against Cruel Sports: 3331129/2018. Employment Tribunal decision. Published 3 February 2020. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/employment-tribunal-decisions/mr-j-casamitjana-costa-v-the-league-against-cruel-sports-3331129-2018
 Although the tribunal stated that veganism was a protected characteristic, it will not be added to the list of protected characteristics contained in the Equality Act 2010. For clarity it should be noted that technically, veganism itself is not the protected characteristic but vegans can be protected under the protected characteristic ‘religion or belief’ because they are in possession of a qualifying belief.