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The Animal Welfare Movement


Movement Building for Social Success
Barriers to Success
Previous Successes
What is Needed for Success?


World Animal Net (WAN) resources include further background information on the animal welfare movement, including: ‘What is Animal Welfare?’; ‘Ethical and Philosophical Theories’; ‘History of the Movement’; and ‘Religion’

The animal welfare movement is clearly a social change movement, as it seeks to change society’s perception and treatment of animals. However, as noted by World Animal Net in ‘The Animal Protection Movement and its Progress’, it is taking a long time to ‘come of age’ as one of the world’s great movements for social change. This section will examine some of the reasons for its protracted march towards ‘take off’ as a movement.

The animal welfare movement often views itself as somehow separate from other social change movements. However, as this course has shown, there is much to learn from other social change movements. Also, as with any similar movement, the animal welfare movement cannot be isolated from social change, politics, culture and economics. In fact, the development of the animal welfare movement is strongly connected to these areas. Also, as this is a highly altruistic concern, it is often considered necessary to tap animal welfare into other social causes that involve human needs which are ceded higher ranking/urgency by policy-makers. However, this approach should be viewed as an expedient, rather than a solution, as it will only lead to change in areas where animal welfare aligns with other (predominant) interests. Until fundamental and underlying moral values are changed to recognize the importance of animal welfare in its own right (for reasons such as animal sentience, justice, international acceptance etc.), then animal welfare will continue to lose out whenever it clashed with other human-centered interests.

The animal welfare movement is in different stages of development in different countries. Culture and historical development impact upon the status of animal welfare and the stage of the movement’s development. Culture and society also impact upon the way in which the animal welfare movement can carry out its advocacy for best impact. Religion can also impact upon attitudes towards animal welfare, hampering or advancing the cause.

There is a vast difference in the way the animal welfare movement is perceived by different organizations and individuals. Some view it as simply a compassionate welfare activity, whereas others view it as a real movement for social change: they see the underlying injustice in the way that current systems treat our fellow animals and burn with the desire the see the situation righted, not just ‘sticking plaster’ solutions applied to the existing flawed, unjust and cruel system.

In reality, the animal welfare movement is quite clearly one of the great movements for social change, although it is taking a relatively long time to ‘come of age’, and is in different stages of development in different countries. It is interesting to note that many individuals who championed causes of human welfare also campaigned against cruelty to animals (for example, William Wilberforce and others who campaigned to abolish slavery; great Victorian reformers such as Lord Shaftesbury, Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill; black spokesmen such as Toussaint L'Overture of Haiti; and even Abraham Lincoln). The principle of social justice requires a developed sense of empathy; as does compassion for the plight of animals.

Our ethical foundations (especially in the West) have evolved as a human-biased morality, but the past 30+ years have brought a significant change. Both the animal rights and the Green movements have shifted the focus of attention to include the non-human world.

This perspective is, in fact, not at all new. The ancient, yet living traditions of Native Indians and Aborigines show a reverence and understanding for the natural world, which combines a respect for the sustainability of the environment with a care for the individual animal.

Thankfully, as with many fields of moral concern, the ethics of animal welfare have been following an evolutionary trend, and the current climate is one in which the status and well-being of animals is attracting well-deserved attention even though “exploitation of them has become been ingrained into our institutions”(Midgely). The current climate, though, is one in which leading philosophers and religious figures actively debate and write about various viewpoints on animal welfare; the media frequently highlights welfare issues; governments throughout Europe and beyond feel growing pressure from their concerned electorates in respect of animal welfare issues; consequently, parliaments (including the European Parliament) debate and legislate on animal welfare and respected fora such as the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the Council of Europe (the bastion of human rights in Europe) prepare standards, conventions and recommendations covering the welfare of animals in different situations. Even organizations such as the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), with vastly different priorities are now including animal welfare in the sphere of their activities.

Animal welfare has now become an international issue. Over the last 30 + years it has evolved from a marginal local or, at best, national issue into one that is on the international political agenda. At the same time, the industry has become international – both in terms of its business activities and its political pressure. There is also increasing ‘internationalization’ of culture, which presents the movement with both an opportunity and a threat. The world is facing a relentless increase in consumerism and ‘Americanization’, and with this the massive expansion of animal use industries (including producers, fast food giants and supermarkets). The onus is now on the movement to ensure that the animal welfare culture is spread internationally to counter these threats.

Movement Building for Social Change

The study of social change shows the clear importance of movement building. The major frameworks for social change all include the need for movement' organization, leadership development and education.

Analysis in this course and other sources provides a sound indication of the key success factors in movement building for the achievement of enduring social change.

If we consider what is needed to bring about social change, we need education and awareness of our issue and strategic advocacy to bring animal welfare higher up in society’s social and political concerns. To equip the movement for this task, we need strategic movement development that can learn from other inspiring social change movements (see above).

One important lesson from other inspiring social change movements is that this movement building is not purely strategic and organizational... A key factor is the firing-up and spreading of what Gandhi termed ‘Satyagraha’ – truth, firmness or more vividly: ‘soul force’. We must never underplay the moral strength of the animal welfare cause, or the need for justice for animals. We are the spokespeople for the animals, and if we don’t speak out as powerful advocates for their cause then nobody will.

Barriers to Success

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) was the world’s first animal welfare charity. It was founded back in 1824. The first international animal welfare organization was the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA). WSPA was founded in 1981, but its origins were back in 1953. It was established from the merger of two international animal welfare organizations (the World Federation for the Protection of Animals founded in 1953 and the International Society for the Protection of Animals (ISPA), founded in 1959).

Despite being established so long ago, and having many well-resourced and influential organizations, many still feel that the international animal welfare movement has not reached its full strength and potential. This could be attributed to many reasons, including the following:

  • Until recently, there have been no international legislation or policy initiatives around which the movement could unite.
  • Lack of urgency about the mission
  • Lack of ‘fire in the belly’ from many of the movement’s leaders.
  • Lack of ‘common sense of mission and purpose’ (an apt phrase coined by HSUS’s John Hoyt when he was President of WSPA).
  • Lack of professionalism and efficiency in many organizations.
  • The lack of capacity, skills and expertise for dealing with animal welfare within the movement: This includes low numbers of animal welfare-trained veterinarians.
  • Lack of strategic and operational impact.
  • Lack of strategic advocacy.
  • Lack of long-term, sustained campaigns.
  • The detrimental effect of divisive attitudes in the movement – particularly as regards the welfare v rights debate (instead of accepting that all are working on same path – just on different steps along the way – and focusing efforts on the common ‘enemy’).
  • The tendency towards competition, rather than genuine collaboration.
  • Failure to develop feasible alternatives to current paradigms and orthodoxies.
  • The breadth and range of issues covered by the movement and the lack of (agreed) focus and prioritization.
  • Allocating the ‘lion’s share’ of resources to ‘service delivery’ work, as opposed to social change.
  • The underdeveloped animal welfare movement (shortage of organizations, and human and financial resources), which has hampered the development of education and awareness – and advocacy.
  • Lack of resources or skills necessary for successful coalition/alliance building.
  • Lack of collaboration and support from other social justice movements.
  • The lack of inclusion of animal welfare in all associated development projects (including: livestock and fisheries development, environment, education, wildlife etc.).
  • Lack of funding (especially Trusts and Grants, favoring service delivery work).
  • Lack of (development) funding for animal welfare initiatives.
  • In ‘developing’ countries, the perception that animal welfare was/is a colonial ‘import’, or somehow a luxury for the privileged (whereas it is now based on science).

A recent in-depth study of 15 Southern African countries indicated that only 1 country in the region had a modern, comprehensive Animal Welfare Act, 7 had just basic anti-cruelty laws, and 5 had no Animal Welfare Act at all. There was evidence of ineffective animal welfare enforcement in all 15 countries. 13 countries had inadequate animal welfare structures within government. Levels of animal welfare awareness were low throughout the region, and two thirds of the countries in the region had poorly developed animal welfare movements (with 3 of these having no movement at all).

Interestingly, the main current driver of animal welfare in the Southern African region was found to be a ‘top down’ one, emanating from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and its national delegates. However, the lack of ‘bottom up’ pressure (from the animal welfare movement and individuals) in most countries in the region had led to a low level of political will which had frustrated real progress.

Identifying the ‘drivers’ of social change and adding power and weight to their work is considered a winning advocacy strategy. It is more effective to strengthen a positive force, than to try to counter a negative force (as this only brings a counter-reaction).

The current lack of modern animal welfare law is widely viewed as a major problem in many countries, particularly ‘developing’ countries. However, before this can be effectively developed it is important that necessary structures and systems – and expertise - are developed within government. These need to be able to deal effectively (ensuring participatory consultation) with policy analysis and formulation; the development of modern, comprehensive legislation; and the establishment of enforcement mechanisms that work.

However, in order for a policy and legislative framework to be effective in raising animal welfare standards, the level of education and awareness of animal welfare also needs to be raised. This is vital on two levels: Both for raising general public awareness – which is necessary to make animal welfare an issue of importance in society (which is part of the social change process) – and for training those responsible for the enforcement and implementation of animal welfare law (including officials and animal users).

The development of the animal welfare movement (civil society) would also assist the development of societal change in favor of animal welfare. The number of organizations in a country is an indicator of the general level of awareness and understanding of the issue. Thus, as education and awareness of an issue rise in a society (from the above interventions), this – in turn – leads to an increase in the number of organizations dealing with the subject. However, to be truly effective agents of change, animal welfare organization need to follow the general pattern of the civil society movement, and move from service delivery to strategic advocacy work.

This Southern African analysis considered the following to be needed in order to achieve sustainable social change for animal welfare:

Education and awareness
Needed to raise understanding, knowledge, support and implementation ability.

The animal welfare movement
Development needed to generate critical mass through advocacy, as well as practical animal welfare projects.

Policies, legislation, and enforcement
Which included animal welfare structures; Necessary for policy change.

The animal welfare movement is in dire need of a strong and forceful movement for social change. Advocacy is the engine for social change. Education is vital but longer-term, and service provision is not tackling problems at their root cause, but akin to applying ‘sticking plaster’ to a wound. The animal welfare policy environment is becoming increasingly ready for fundamental change, but this will not be achieved or sustained without a groundswell of pressure and support for reform. International organizations, governments and civil service departments are, by their very nature, cautious and favor maintenance of the status quo. The same could be said of consumers! All need strong reasons to act, which the movement has to provide – loud and strong!

'Service Delivery'

Service delivery work (working within the existing system - often known as ‘practical project work’) can detract from the movement’s time, capacity and political will to campaign forcefully for social change. Examples include legislative enforcement, stray control work and veterinary care. Because many in the movement are very empathetic, they cannot overlook immediate suffering and so get drawn into service delivery/practical work, rather than using their practical experiences as a basis for prioritising advocacy for lasting social change.

If the world’s animal shelters had spent as much time and effort on advocacy to change the plight of animals as they do picking up the sad end results that demonstrate so painfully the need for change, we could have seen a powerful (and probably successful) revolution! Of course, this is simplistic, as many animal shelters are better suited to service provision work, but the need for urgency and power is still relevant. Certainly every service provision animal welfare society should also advocate for change to the horrendous situation for animals which they face on a daily basis. If they do not do so, they are simply supporting an unjust system – taking responsibility and thus perpetuating the situation.

Also, major funders of animal welfare work, such as Trusts and Grants, have traditionally favored service provision activities. This is probably partly due to the more tangible, measurable and emotionally pleasing results gained from this type of work in the short-term. However, as these bodies – and individuals - become more familiar with the complex animal welfare environment, this perception is changing. More Trusts and Grants are beginning to realise that the service provision work they are funding, day-after-day, year-after-year, is failing to change the situation for animals in a real and lasting way. The only way to do this is through tackling the ‘root causes’ of these enduring problems. This may be longer-term, but it is sustainable.


Globalization Affecting the Movement

The main factors arising from globalization that impact upon the animal welfare movement are:

  • The rise of powerful transnational corporations (TNCs) in animal-use industries.
  • The emergence of powerful trading blocs, regional legislation/standards and international legislation/standards (either promoting or restraining/hampering action on animal welfare issues).
  • The rapid spread of information and communication technologies.
  • Increased travel opportunities and personal contacts amongst animal welfare groups internationally.
  • The trend towards deregulation and ‘consumer choice’.

As markets globalize, the power of those who market (e.g. producers, supermarkets and – especially - fast-food outlets) increases in both strength and outreach. The animal use (and abuse) industries that are the opponents of the movement are becoming increasingly wealthy and political powerful. As leading Japanese management guru Kenichi Ohmae (1996) argues, capital, corporations, customers, communications, and currencies have replaced nation states as determinants in the global economy and have created regional economic zones that constitute growing markets for global corporations.

The animal welfare movement has to harness all its resources to counter this growing threat and to meet the challenges that the new international political scene is throwing forward. It needs to become a powerful international movement for social change: strategic, focused and professional – adept at leveraging its skills and capabilities internationally and supporting and assisting nascent and developing organizations across the world.

Progress with animal ethics in one country can also influence other countries. There is without doubt a moral influence from more advanced (in terms of animal welfare) countries. There is also their role in regional and international meetings.


The way in which the authorities have come to rely on science alone is a real threat to the movement. This emphasis on ‘rationality’ is a result of a schizophrenic dualism, brought about by Greek philosophy and reinforced by the Enlightenment. However, it fails to recognize that facts are always interpreted through cultural screens (of which rationality is one). Intrinsic knowledge and wisdom is ignored until science ‘catches up’ with common knowledge. Unless the ‘precautionary principle’ is applied (to always give the animals the benefit of the doubt where science cannot provide the answers), then this leads to society consistently compromising the welfare of animals. It also leads to increased official support for biotechnological solutions, rather than natural methods and necessary protection.

However, as animal welfare science is developed, this is supporting the cause – as it ‘plays catch-up’ with our intrinsic knowledge and sense of justice.


The danger of co-option is another present threat to the movement. This occurs not only with groups that are taken into the system through service delivery activities. It also occurs in other areas. In lobbying, for example, we increasingly see tokenism, instead of real engagement of a broad range of animal welfare interests. Consultation is simulated, but in reality input is discounted or ignored, particularly when weighed against commercial interests.

There are also examples of where animal welfare organizations are brought into compromise situations as regards the introduction of new legislation, enforcement or structural ‘advances’. The animal welfare movement appears even more willing than other movements to grasp at straws and settle for less than the optimum – possibly because after years in the ‘wilderness’ as a marginal interest it is simply too willing to be taken seriously at any level.

Previous Successes

There have been some excellent successes at European Union (EU) level, where there is now a body of animal welfare legislation that is in most cases stronger than national law. The use of networks and coalitions has doubtless played a fundamental role in these. These include:

  • The Eurogroup for Animal Welfare, which has member organizations across the EU and lobbies at EU-level on the whole range of animal welfare issues.
  • The European Coalition to End Animal Experiments (ECEAE), which is a pan-European coalition campaigning and lobbying to end animal experiments in Europe.
  • The European Network for Farm Animal Protection (ENFAP), which was previously known as the European Coalition for Farm Animals (ECFA), which is an alliance of animal advocacy groups campaigning and lobbying together throughout Europe.

Progress was moved to an international level when the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) identified animal welfare as a priority in its strategic plan for 2001-20015, and started developing international standards covering animal welfare issues. Whilst these standards are lower than some European legislation, and some higher standard national animal welfare laws, they do represent enormous progress for the many countries with no (or very basic) animal welfare laws. Furthermore, the OIE consults the animal welfare movement, having WSPA as a ‘collaborating partner’ and member of its Animal Welfare Working Group (which drafts the standards), and WSPA widens this involvement through its coordinating body - the ‘International Coalition for Animal Welfare (ICFAW)’.

There have also been significant successes in some countries nationally – particularly within Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Far-reaching legislation is passed, and animal welfare activity is beginning to be accepted as a legitimate national interest (even being included in some constitutions).

Within Southern Africa, Tanzania has been seen to have made significant progress in animal welfare in recent laws. At least part of these advances must be attributable to the impact of advocacy from the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA)’s African offices, following its relocation from Kenya to Tanzania.

Despite this, in some countries, such as India, the movement appears to be losing ground as other materialistic concerns take precedence amongst the youth (despite an ingrained culture in favor of animal concerns).

There have also been two significant developments which have the potential to strengthen the movement. These are the development of the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations (FIAPO) and the Pan African Animal Welfare Alliance (PAAWA). On the other hand, the dismantling by WSPA of its international member society network was a blow to many former member societies.

What is Needed for Success?

Firstly, the movement needs to understand its role as a social change agent. It needs to make its animal justice mission a real ‘raison d’être’, instead of just paying lip service to this. This should provide the real ‘fire in the belly’ that is needed to change the movement into a strong force for social change.

The rapidly changing commercial and political environment with which the animal welfare movement is faced, calls for some fundamental changes. It needs to become increasingly professional and strategic, using modern management methods appropriate to its complex environment.

To succeed in its mission, the movement needs to change its focus to tackling problems at source, rather than endlessly sweeping up the tragic end results. We need to put a stop to being taken advantage of in service delivery activities. If an organization wants, and needs, to do service delivery work, it should make absolutely sure that it is paid at the going economic rate for this. It should also ensure that this work does not lead to its ‘cooption’ into the existing flawed system, and that it always works for social change for animals.

The movement needs to draw a halt to being co-opted and neutralized. Every serious organization, of whatever ethical persuasion, should demand full and inclusive representation, not tokenism.

Competition is divisive and tears the movement to shreds. The industry is far stronger in terms of people and resources. Their political clout can be measured in economic building blocks, whereas the movement’s building blocks are far more ethereal and fragile – ethics, morality and the power of good. They can only counter the economic threat if they are placed in a coherent stack, rather than small individual piles, that others are constantly trying to kick into the dust. We need the glue of coherence and unity. We need effective collaboration and alliances across the movement. Only then will consumers and voters begin to adopt the coherent message, instead of giving up in the face of all the noise and confusion.

Advocacy is the engine of the movement for social change. The movement’s campaigning methods need to be updated and dynamic if we are to succeed. In most countries across the world, the days are gone when a small demonstration with placards and a campaign mascot could sway governments. The forces pitted against us are too strong and powerful to be combated with such simplicity. We need to generate a groundswell of pressure and support for reform. This will take new ammunition and new targets. Campaign targets have been changing with the move from regulatory to market-orientated environments – from government and voters, towards business targets and consumers. An in depth understanding of the political and external environment is vital. Campaigns need to be hard-hitting, with focus and impact, but also well-researched. They must be combined with a strong, professional lobby, avoiding the usual NGO pitfalls. Every country should be pressed to recognize animals as sentient beings, not just property, and have fully enforced modern animal welfare laws (instead of the existing situation where less than one third of countries have laws at the time of writing).

Humane education is vital to the development of a humane ethic in future generations, and the movement.

The animal welfare movement is quite clearly one of the great movements for social change, but it has yet to reach its real potential and impact. We need to root out exploitation of animals wherever it has become ingrained into our society and institutions (Midgely), and to expose and shame. We must never let the unacceptable become the status quo. We must change hearts and minds before it is too late.

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