A court has ruled ‘Ethical Veganism’ a Philosophical Belief under the Equality Act 2010.
Words by Ben Jones, Staff Writer.
In Norwich, “ethical veganist” Jordi Casamitjana brought a case before tribunal which ruled ethical veganism to be a “philosophical belief”, and thus obtains the same safety from discrimination held by religious beliefs under the Equality Act 2010. Ethical veganism, as opposed to dietary veganism, is the belief in abstaining from consuming any products that has resulted in the exploitation of animals, for moral and ethical reasons. With the growing exposure of cruelty and abuse toward animals in the production of many products, veganism has began to rise as a strongly held belief in Britain and across the world. According to The Vegan Society, ‘There are more than Three and a half times as many vegans as there were in 2006, making it the fastest growing lifestyle movement’. This judgment is a significant step in the growing popularity of veganism, particularly in its status not just as a lifestyle but as a way of thought and a belief system. As well as reflecting the growing status of veganism in society, the result of this tribunal also holds significance for the criticism and debate surrounding discrimination in the work-place.
Mr Casamitjana was reportedly dismissed from the League Against Cruel Sports, a charity which aims to prevent the suffering or abuse of animals in sporting events. According to the charity, he was dismissed for gross misconduct, but Mr Casamitjana states that he was dismissed after disclosing the companies investment in in companies that conduct animal testing. Mr Casamitjana therefore took his employers to tribunal citing League Against Cruel Sports did not contest ethical veganism as a philosophical belief, but held the position that Mr Casamitjana was not dismissed for his veganism, but due to “gross misconduct”.
To be considered a philosophical belief, ethical veganism has to be regarded as worthy of respect in a democratic society. There are nine protected characteristics under the Equality Act – religion and belief, age, disability, gender re-assignment, marriage and civil-partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, sex, and sexual orientation. While tribunal has ruled that veganism is to be considered a philosophical belief, and thus ethical vegans obtain protection from discrimination in the work place, it is yet to be decided as to whether Mr Casamitjana was in fact dismissed because of his veganism. This will be determined in an upcoming tribunal.
The result of this decision has brought reactions that both suggest a groundbreaking move forward for societies respect for veganism, as well as criticism and concern as to tribunal’s ability to determine which beliefs are democratically acceptable and which aren’t, and how these decisions will implicate future tribunals and the relationship between employer and employee. Cultural Critic Theodore Dalrymple said that ‘The very idea that a tribunal should feel competent to divide beliefs into those both truly philosophical and not inimical to a democratic society – the criteria laid down by the law that entitles them to special protection – and those that don’t meet these specifications is worrying’. This tribunal has thus raised questions as to the conflicts between employer and employee when it comes to discrimination and what is and what isn’t considered to be an accepted belief. While some reflect on the equality act as a vital way of ensuring a preventation against discrimination in the work-place, some evidently consider the result of this tribunal evidence of the growing power of the employee over the employer due to the protection one gains from belonging to a supposedly democratically and socially acceptable belief system.
According to recent research, ethical vegans have experienced extensive discrimination in the work-place. In a research study by Crossland, it is reported that 45 percent of 1,000 vegans have felt unfairly discriminated against in the workplace, while nearly a third have felt harassed at work. Furthermore, almost half of a 1,000 employers reported that they did not do anything to accommodate vegans. Discrimination is clearly a concern for the vegan community, and ethical veganism as a strongly held system of thought clearly places it within the grounds of a philosophic belief. While criticism will be drawn toward this court hearing, it is clearly a moment of marked progress for the rising vegan movement in Britain.
[Image Credit: Miika Laaksonen]