We should be eternally grateful that a vast majority of animals are incapable of enacting revenge on human animals for how they are treated. But, we have seen the many ways exploiting animals comes back to bite us–whether that’s in the form of various diseases like stroke, dementia, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, COVID-19, flu, and the common cold or civilization potentially ending from the antibiotic crisis or climate change.
Humans, on the other hand, are in a position to take action. When our car gets stolen, our credit card information is compromised, or we are the victim of a phone scam, it’s easy to point the finger at others. But exploitation of animals is dangerous, not only for those we exploit but for ourselves as the species that can take action.
In general, the exploitation of human animals is not a white or wealthy (WOW) people’s issue. The most severe form of exploitation like slavery or slavery-like conditions affects almost everyone except WOW people. When we use the term wealthy, it’s important to note that we do not mean wealthy by Western standards, but wealthy in comparison to others in the world.
The hypocrisy in veganism can at times seem boundless. For years we have tried in vain to convince our colleagues to, at the very least, stop certifying as vegan the killing and exploitation of animals in things like chocolate, cotton, and tomatoes.
Why does it take so much effort to convince organizations that already encourage others not to discriminate against animals based on how they look to stop doing exactly that? We have been reflecting on the possible causes of this to find solutions.
One factor is that in the Vegan World Alliance, all of the delegates are white. Also, just like in Fortune 500 companies, most board members of organizations that self-identify as vegan on a global level are white. Similarly, many organizations that self-identify as vegan have generic statements about slavery and slavery-like conditions that amount to nothing more than whitewashing while they go about business as usual. They use the precautionary principle and do not certify chocolate bars made with the exploitation of cows but ignore, condone, or require proof in court beyond a reasonable doubt to not certify products when it comes to the exploitation of human animals in the harvesting of cacao.
It goes without saying that when we discuss veganism and our vision with people who are not WOW, there is no need to spend hours, let alone years, convincing them that humans are animals and that we should not discriminate based on how they look, let alone encourage people to kill or exploit them by certifying all of this as vegan.
There is no way to know what would be different if most of the board members of organizations who self-identify as vegan globally were non-white, but from our limited experience it seems more likely they would join us in not exploiting animals by certifying things as vegan that are products of slavery or slavery-like conditions.
It may be wise for organizations like ours, whose vision rests upon our ability to not discriminate between animals based on how they look, to encourage diversity within their boards.
The discrimination of animals based on how they look in veganism is untenable and makes our vision impossible. We will never waver from our vision and will continue to work as hard to protect the exploitation of cows in chocolate milk as we do the human animals that harvest the cacao. It is not a luxury but a requirement for the achievement of our vision.
Now let’s go back to the type of exploitation that WOW people might experience. Unlike cows, human animals can take action against their exploitation and exploiters. This is deeply ironic. As we spread our unstainable Western way of life globally, people want to live in similar unsustainable ways. The problem is our lifestyle requires us to exploit animals, use more resources than we should, and it’s simply impossible for the entire world to have the lifestyle we have in the Western world.
Some people commit fraud or theft to achieve a lifestyle that is beyond their reach. For example, car theft is a multi-billion dollar business globally. In the US alone, car theft was on track to reach $9 billion in 2022. Some of the largest final destinations of stolen cars are West Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Reports on the subject have documented that for many involved in this form of exploitation, the rationalization involves in part payback for their continued exploitation from WOW people. They believe that they are not stealing but simply making up for underemployment or the lack of a living wage paid by Western corporations, which in many of these regions is less than $2 per hour.
Very few—maybe none at all—have grown up wanting to make a living out of the exploitation of others, but they felt they had little choice as any regular jobs in those countries, from corporations owned by WOW people, do not pay a living wage.
The same goes for phone scams, which is also a multi-billion dollar business. In the US, it reached around $40 billion in 2022. Like car theft, most phone scammers are from countries where the average hourly wage is very low and far from providing a living wage. When faced with a lack of opportunity or when the only opportunities available are in slavery or slavery-like conditions, some turn to phone scams to supplement their income.
Many forms of exploitation we face as WOW individuals can be traced back to the cycle of exploitation that we are actively taking part in, falsely believing that we have a net benefit from this exploitation. It may be true that for very few of the wealthiest human animals, a case can be made that their net benefits from this exploitation are positive, but even that is highly debatable. For everyone else, there are at best no benefits.
How can we change all this? One person at a time. If ethics, health or environmental reasons are not motivating factors for us to adopt a vegan lifestyle, the best reason that is not discussed often enough is to prevent our own exploitation. Let’s make it clear that the exploitation of animals, whether cows or human animals, has no place in our society let alone in veganism. Do not condone or encourage exploitation just because there has been no conviction in a court of law. Corporations have an enormous amount of resources and, due to various factors including corruption, convictions in court are few and far between. In veganism, always remember that we use the precautionary principle, which requires a much lower evidentiary threshold than courts, and that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
What is ethically wrong with killing, animal testing or any other form of animal exploitation is not where it occurs in the supply chain, or whether it occurs to an animal that looks like a cow, but that it occurs at all. Always support products, services, certifications and organizations that align with your beliefs. Ours are clear and our dedication to our vision is unwavering. It’s a scientific fact that humans are animals, and veganism is clear: we refrain from the exploitation of animals.