This short blog will explain why vegans have rights, what rights they have and where vegans can obtain more information and help.
Why do vegans have rights?
Vegans have rights because their lives are directed by deep convictions concerning the exploitation of animals. Vegans wish to avoid participation in animal use and therefore have daily needs such as vegan food and other requirements that often come to surface in different situations such as in school, in the workplace or when in hospital.
The human right to freedom of conscience is the primary right that grounds the claims of vegans. This important right allows us the absolute ability to believe in veganism and the right to have our needs met as long as they are not unreasonable or unlawful. The right to freedom of conscience is related to other rights that are useful to vegans, such as the right to appropriate education, the right to raise your children vegan and, because this right has connections to equality law, vegans are protected from unlawful discrimination, for example in the workplace and in the provision of goods and services.
What are my rights?
Under the Human Rights Act 1998, when vegans are in relationships with government authorities (the public sector) such as the NHS, state controlled schools, the police, prisons or detention centres, their needs as vegans must be taken into account. This means that any food provided should be vegan food, requests for alternative medicines must be considered, classes in school should respect the views of vegans and not require vegans to perform any activity that would require them to compromise their moral beliefs, and tasks required of vegans in prison must take into account their practical needs to continue living as vegan.
People working in the public sector are under a specific statutory duty to respect the needs of vegans and not pressure them to do anything that they would rather not. This duty applies for example to teachers, police officers, doctors, nurses and other health care professionals.
The right to freedom of conscience is related to the relevant area of United Kingdom equality law that applies to vegans. Under the Equality Act 2010, a person with what is known as a ‘protected characteristic’ must not be discriminated against in the workplace, in education or in the provision of goods and services. The protected characteristic that applies to vegans is ‘religion and belief’.
Under this legislation a vegan is protected from ‘direct discrimination’, ‘indirect discrimination, ‘harassment’ and ‘victimisation’. The rules for the application of these types of discrimination vary slightly in different contexts, but very generally they are applicable in the following way: direct discrimination occurs if, for no valid reason, a vegan is told that they cannot apply for a job because they are vegan. ‘Indirect discrimination’, occurs when an apparently neutral policy or practice has the effect of disadvantaging vegans. For example, if an engineering company requires all staff to purchase safety boots from a company catalogue that does not list any vegan friendly safety boots, this policy could be an example of indirect discrimination. Harassment means being humiliated, offended or degraded in the workplace, and victimisation is experienced when, if you have raised a complaint related to your rights as a vegan under the Equality Act, you are then further disadvantaged because you made the complaint.
Where can I get further information and help?
If you feel that you are experiencing unfair treatment or discrimination in school, at work, in healthcare or as a consumer, you can find more information and advice at the links below.
Equality and Human Rights Commission https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en
Equality Advisory Service https://www.equalityadvisoryservice.com/
The Vegan Society https://www.vegansociety.com/take-action/speak-out/find-your-voice
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Dr Jeanette Rowley
We are grateful to everyone who contributes to the Advocates for Animals blog. Blogs should not be taken as legal advice nor do they necessarily reflect the views of the firmGo Back