Veganism is a way of living which affects all areas of life. In seeking to exclude all forms of exploitation of animals from their lives, vegans may be confronted with challenges or discrimination in environments like their workplace or place of education, or when accessing public services like healthcare. Veganism is recognised as a protected belief under British law, meaning vegans are able to challenge situations in which they are being asked to act against their ethical stance.
Legal recognition for vegans is rooted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights under Article 18 - the human right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. This right is given legal effect in different countries through international human rights treaties including Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights which is applicable to the UK.
Article 9 was first used as a basis to defend vegan rights on 10 February 1993 when C.W., a vegan prisoner, took the United Kingdom government to court. C.W. alleged that they were forced to work in the prison print shop which, they argued, contravened their right to freedom of belief because they would come into contact with dyes that had been tested on non-human animals.
Ultimately, the Court decided that the work did not breach C.W.’s rights. Importantly, however, this case highlighted that the convictions of vegans regarding animal welfare fell within the scope of Article 9 and, in 2020, this finding would assist in the confirmation that veganism is also protected under British equality law.
The legal recognition of veganism has led to many changes in practices and policies over the years, resulting in greater inclusivity for vegans in education, employment and health care.
The Vegan Society’s rights service provides information on Article 9 to support vegans who claim the right to solutions that do not compromise their ethical stance without the fear of negative repercussions. Article 9 rights ground the case of Jordi Casamitjana in 2020, for example, which cemented veganism as a protected characteristic in the workplace, and Fiji Willets who won her case against her college after being told she would have take a module on farming or fail her Animal Management course.
The successes of the legal recognition of veganism go beyond individuals and can be seen on a national scale, including initiatives to improve labelling on medications and the inclusion of plant-based milks in nursery schemes.
Vegan rights advocate, Dr Jeanette Rowley, states “It seems absurd that people need to apply for the protection of law to help them avoid participating in the exploitation of non-human animals and protect them from discrimination simply because they wish to practice compassion.
The protection afforded to vegans under Article 9 brings into sharp focus the moral standing of other animals and their suffering, and shines a light on protection for compassionate living. In a world where other animals are excluded from a protective rights framework themselves, legal protection for vegans is surely worth celebrating.”
Find out more information about this important topic from our Research Advisory Committee (RAC) member, Dr Jeanette Rowley, who explores the importance of human rights to legal protection for vegans under British equality law