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Tuesday, 21 April 2015 18:37

Help Companies Take Responsibility toward Animals

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Though large companies have a huge impact on animals, they communicate little sense of responsibility for their welfare. This is the sad conclusion of a study I carried out with Professor Muel Kaptein at RSM Erasmus University Rotterdam. Less than half of the 200 largest companies in the world (from Fortune Global 500) make statements of responsibility toward animals on their websites. The other 53% do not mention responsibilities toward animals at all on their websites.

For companies that did make statements of responsibility toward animals, we evaluated the importance of their commitment by the strength of the statement (ranging from taking a neutral stance to discussion of specific actions benefiting animals), the type of document the statement appeared in, and the length of the statement. This is, given that the websites of these companies are very extensive, a good indicator of what they communicate and what is important for them.

pig2The Most Responsible Companies

The companies that show the most responsibility toward animals are Bayer, Unilever, Nestlé, Royal Bank of Scotland Group, Tesco, and Procter & Gamble. While in practice these companies might not be the best performers, communication about animal ethics is more important than one would think. Including animal ethics in their communications makes a company accountable and aware, and it can have an impact on the position of other companies and the place of animal ethics in society.

Missed Opportunity

It is striking that companies that do acknowledge responsibility toward animals often do so in relatively unimportant web documents, such as project descriptions, blogs and news items, and not in more central documents like codes of conduct, policy documents and annual reports. This is a missed opportunity! If a company does take responsibility for its impact on animals, and chooses to communicate about it, why not be very clear about it and include it in a corporate responsibility report? Doing so makes the company more transparent and accountable on the subject of animal welfare.


For obvious reasons companies that sell animal-based products or keep animals talk more about responsibilities toward animals than other companies, but there are exceptions. A few companies selling animal-based food products seem to completely ignore the public debate about the treatment of animals in the food industry and show no sign of responsibility. On the other hand there are companies that show unexpected responsibility. Royal Bank of Scotland, for example, accompanies its pet insurance products with extensive guidelines for consumers on how to take good care of pets. State Farm established minimum animal care and welfare criteria for all company events at zoos or circuses. The U.S. Postal Service refrains from doing business with companies that abuse animals for entertainment. It simply won’t ship their cargo!

Assessing Companies by Commitment to Animals (CAN) Score

As researchers we recommend that all companies reflect on their responsibilities toward animals and that NGOs stimulate them to do so. This can be done by the assessment technique we developed in our study, the Commitment to Animals score (CAN score). Communicating what a company stands for, and how it performs, will stimulate everyone within the company to fulfill the corporate responsibilities toward animals, so that the company can be held accountable. And that would be a start to making things better for animals.

The results of the study, including the CAN assessment technique, are published online on the Social Science Research Network under the title: ‘The Ethical Responsibility of Companies toward Animals: A Study of the Fortune Global 200’

Photo credit: "Pig" by Nick Saltmarsh, used under CC BY 2.0

Monique Janssens

Monique researches the connection between company and animal ethics and what companies can do to improve the lives of animals. She carries out her research at the Rotterdam School of Management of Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

About the WAN Blog

The WAN blog allows us to share our expertise in the fields of policy, science, communications, management, and more in a manner that animal protection organizations can easily incorporate into their everyday work for animals. The blog also provides the opportunity to highlight important work of individual organizations and campaigns, and allows researchers, experts, and others outside of WAN to provide useful information to the animal protection community. 

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