Leiden Law Blog

The corporate responsibility to respect animal welfare

Posted on by Chalermwut Sriporm in Private Law
The corporate responsibility to respect animal welfare

Have you heard the stories behind the colourful sweets on your table? Following the recent German investigative documentary called ‘Der Haribo-Check’, it seems that there may be a link between those sweets and animal abuse practices. The documentary has made an allegation against Haribo, the German sweet manufacturer, about using gelatin, the ingredient of gummy bears, which is made from abused pigs at its suppliers’ farm. The report showed the terrible conditions described by Joanna Fantozzi: ‘pigs were roaming in crowded crates without access to water, covered in open sores and their own filth, and sometimes being made to sleep next to corpses of their own kind’. This raises a question about the role of the manufacturing companies, who normally source animal products from their suppliers, concerning the issue of animal welfare.

In most cases, manufacturers of food products  will never have the fear of being held liable under animal welfare or animal protection laws. For example, in this case, it is unlikely that Haribo will be held liable under the German Animal Protection Act, which lays down legal frameworks for protecting animal welfare, and prohibiting animal abuse. The reason is very simple: Haribo was not  directly involved in raising and killing the poor pigs that were handled by pig farms in its supply chain. It is also fair to say that this will be the conclusion in any other similar cases.

Notwithstanding this conclusion, I believe that these manufacturing companies should make a significant contribution to improving animal welfare and reducing animal abuse, especially in their suppliers’ practices. I take the strategy of  international fast-food franchise company McDonald’s as an example of how companies can take such a step. In order to respect the welfare of animals, McDonald’s has accepted and included concern for animal welfare in its CSR policy. The firm has set Animal Health and Welfare Guiding Principles for improving and ensuring animal welfare in its supply chain. In these Guiding Principles, the Five Freedoms of animal welfare are expressly recognized. In my opinion, if manufacturing companies have an economically dominant position in the supply chain, adopting animal welfare in their CSR policy would help enforce animal protection laws in practice. However, corporate responsibility to respect animal welfare is rare, since the internationally recognized CSR instruments such as the OECD Guidelines and the Ten Principles of the UN Global Impact have not recognized animal welfare as a fundamental value so far.   

Despite the absence of such recognition in the international CSR instruments, I believe the time has come for manufacturing companies to, on their own initiative, take positive action against cruelty to animals by including this concern in their CSR plan. If companies, especially large companies, chose to do so, they could become key players in fighting for animals that have been facing emotional and physical abuse in farms or slaughterhouses, and banishing heartrending stories like   ‘Der Haribo-Check’ forever.

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