When plants conflict with our vision

When plants conflict with our vision

Vegan Society of Canada News
Published September 16th 2021
Updated July 22nd 2022

This may sound counterintuitive, but everything made from plants will not result in the achievement of our vision, because veganism is not about ingredients, and plants are not inherently better than anything else. We are not opposed to the molecular structure of meat or dairy, we are opposed to the animal exploitation behind it. Asparagus produced by the exploitation of human animals is no better than cheese produced by the exploitation of cows or honey by the exploitation of bees.

Animal exploitation is occurring under a vegan label, and this article is a guide to help you understand how and why it is happening and what we can do about it.

It’s important for the vegan community to have strong standards and certification mechanisms, but at this point, we don’t know what will be necessary to achieve our vision. If achieving our vision through education proves difficult, having all products and services available in the marketplace certified as vegan, under a standard compatible with the Vegan World Alliance (VWA) draft standard, would mean people don’t need to fully understand veganism or the reasons behind our vision. One might argue that this is much more unlikely than succeeding in changing people’s minds, but we disagree.

A great example of this is the achievement of the Jewish community and the kosher certification. The Jewish community has done a tremendous job of getting 41% of products to be sold with their kosher certification and they represent a similar proportion of the population as people who self-identify as vegan. There is no data available for all countries, but their certification is likely the most popular of any certification scheme in the world. This is an extraordinary achievement, which demonstrates that getting significant market penetration without sharing one’s creed is not only possible but also possible in a timely manner; the first kosher certification body was established a little less than 100 years ago.

If 41% of products and services in the world were certified by the VWA draft standards, it would have an enormous impact on animal exploitation. Considering that Judaism has existed for millennia and on a global scale about 1 percent of the population self-identify as Jewish, an argument can be made that if we had a choice between spreading vegan certification or understanding various concepts in veganism, the former has a better probability of achieving our vision in a timely manner.

Fortunately, we have multiple ways to take action, but it’s clear that having a strong global vegan standard and certification mechanism has a rightful place in our mission, and its tremendous potential to bring about the end of animal exploitation in a timely manner should not be underestimated.

Now that we have established why having a strong vegan standard and certification is important, let's discuss the animal exploitation that is happening under the umbrella of veganism and a vegan label.

As businesses try to reshape what veganism is to maximize their profit, there are now too many goods that have a vegan label which only meet the requirement of not directly containing animal ingredients. We have seen this as part of the ISO-23662 that we have banned. Some standards do not exclude a host of other sources of animal exploitation, such as animal testing, food additives, processing aids, animal labour, and packaging. This is a serious problem and will make reaching our vision impossible.

In addition to the non-human animal exploitation happening under a vegan label, many vegan standards do not have any requirements regarding the treatment of human animals. We do not have any hard statistics, but posit that a majority of goods certified as vegan today are produced in, or include components that are produced with, serious exploitation of human animals. A lot of evidence of this has been published in the last decade, and this latest report released by Amnesty International focuses on the current human animal exploitation going on in a small region of China.

The report is thorough and provides plenty of evidence for great concern. The abuse of human animals is extensive and pervasive. They include being imprisoned for no reason beyond having been caught with WhatsApp on your smartphone, torture, persecution, loss of freedom of expression, loss of freedom of movement, discrimination and forced labour. The report states that all of this can be considered torture:

The combination of these physical and non-physical measures, in conjunction with
the total loss of control and personal autonomy in the camps, is likely to cause mental and physical suffering severe enough to constitute torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.

This also affects everyone surrounding them:

When someone was [sent to a camp] it affected three generations of the family. For example, if parents were sent then it affected the son – he could not get a job with government or police... Also, for example, the cadres staying with [the families of people in camps] overnight had to report back to the village committee if anyone prayed. And if they found this, then the score [of the person in the camp] would be lowered... And if a person was sent to re-education camp then that person’s family had to attend classes. If they did [attend] then the family would get a good score and [the person in the camp would] get released sooner, or vice versa. We collected scores each week and sent them to re-education camps.

Those in camps are often forced into slavery or slavery-like conditions for some of the largest brands in the world:

These former detainees described being compelled to work in garment factories, silk factories, textile factories, tea factories, electric motor assembly plants, shoe factories, and noodle factories after they were released from detention. Others were made to work as security guards or teachers. Journalists have also reported forced transfers of large numbers Uyghurs and ethnic minorities for factories in other parts of China, with some coming directly from detention camps. Reports have also called into question the supply chains of numerous well-known global brands.

Businesses that manufacture in China want the public to believe that they have regulations in place to ensure this does not happen in their facility. But in China it is virtually impossible to have free inspections, and the “safeguards” put in place by most businesses are only a smokescreen to morally disengage the public from the exploitation that is taking place. The horrors for non-human animals on factory farms and slaughterhouses are hidden in much the same way.

One might argue their vegan organization is national and does not certify goods internationally, so their country is not subject to these types of animal exploitation. However, as we have pointed out, this is highly unlikely as China is the largest exporter in the world. For example, China is the world leading exporter of cotton, and a vast majority of it comes from the Xinjiang region. Furthermore, because there is no mandatory tracing requirement, many textiles and/or cotton coming labelled as originating from other countries are in reality from China. Regrettably some of those are labelled “vegan”, “ethical”, or with similar terms to deceive and morally disengage consumers when the reality is the only “ethical” part is their anti-slavery statement posted on their website that is backed by little to no concrete actions. Nevertheless, as we have discussed in the past, there are many issues even in Canada with regards to slavery-like conditions in the harvesting of our fruits and vegetables. In addition, various other crops that come from other countries also have serious issues with slavery-like conditions and child labour, for example in the farming of cocoa.

Now that we have seen a very small sample of the unacceptable exploitation that occurs under a vegan label, let’s try to see if we can understand why this is happening. If we had complete knowledge, it is likely we would find many causes. We hypothesize that one of them is the nature of for-profit corporations themselves. Legally they exist for the sole purpose of maximizing profits for shareholders, whether it is a business making traditional cheese or vegan certified cheese. The quest for profit maximization will almost always be in conflict with the exploitation of animals.

Additionally, the majority of people working at for-profit corporations making products that are certified vegan do not self-identify as vegan themselves. This makes it likely that in the tug of war between the exploitation of animals and profit, we are likely to see more exploitation than less profit. This is in part why plants are not inherently better: The quest for profit maximization that leads to the horrors of factory farming is also present in products that are made out of plants.

This can easily be seen in the palm oil industry, which we have already banned from vegan certification some time ago, but too many of our colleagues have failed to act and are perpetuating the fallacy that plants are inherently better. We need deeper changes in our society, and the falsehood that plants alone can bring about our vision is a very dangerous one.

Furthermore, too many organizations certifying things vegan are not vegan organizations. We could not even fathom ourselves offering certification of other creeds, for example, kosher or halal certification. Unfortunately, we see many non-vegan organizations with no understanding of the vegan creed offering vegan certification, and this must stop.

For some organizations that self-identify as vegan, certification is an important source of revenue, which raises many concerns. The certification has become disconnected from our vision and is often used simply to fool consumers to increase sales. In addition, the fact that some organizations do not have public programs or outreach and their main, and sometimes sole, activity is selling vegan certification can cause the quest for profit to overtake the ability of the certification to bring about our vision.

Another potential reason is the notion that the exploitation of human animals is not the concern of vegan certification. However, this is clearly wrong. Veganism comes crashing down as any ethical reasoning to justify ending the exploitation of non-human animals becomes untenable when we condone the exploitation of human animals.

The cognitive dissonance that we denounce in others is alive and well within veganism itself. It is flabbergasting that this needs to be said in the first place, but it does: The fact that human animals look different than cows or bees should not be a reason to disregard their exploitation; if we do, veganism and our vision will implode under the weight of its own hypocrisy. People depend on us to find products that align with our vision so they can in part increase what’s possible and practicable for them.

As far as the ability to bring about our vision, there is no other certification beyond the vegan certification. On the other hand, if people find our standard too stringent they can easily buy countless products either uncertified, plant-based or vegetarian.

What can we do about it? We must look at our own lives first to ensure our lifestyle is in accordance with our vision, that our “possible and practicable” is always at the edge of our capabilities as human animals, and to always seek to expand those capabilities. We must not support people, organizations, products or services that conflict with our vision.

On our end, you have our never-ending commitment to our vision. We will never put anything before the achievement of our vision. Effective immediately, we are taking the following actions:

  • Ban of anything coming out of factories within 1000km of the Xinjiang region
  • Due to the impossibility of doing free and safe inspections within China, a ban on any products and services that required physical inspection

We believe we can help those living a lifestyle in accordance with our vision by certifying products and services that comply with our standards and by banning those products that do not but are most regrettably already labelled vegan.

Veganism is built on the premise that people can change, otherwise our vision is impossible. Collectively we can change and align our way of life with achieving our vision so that all animals benefit.

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