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.
The 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.
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’