Note: All the market research articles are published in the category “What Vegans Want.”
When I became a vegetarian at age 15 during the summer of 1982, little information was available about animal welfare issues. Pre-Internet, we relied for our information on printed media, two (yes, two!) television channels, and two radio stations in Austria. It was a different world back then, and information was hard to come by. That’s why, after vowing never to eat meat or fish again, I did just that for several years – and nothing else.
I didn’t want animals to get slaughtered on my behalf, but I wasn’t aware of any other issues: factory farming, transport, force feeding, etc. Lack of information was a real issue back than, and for the next four years I lived as a “pudding vegetarian.” I didn’t eat meat or fish, but everything else, and didn’t pay attention to nutrition. I ate a lot of junk food including sweets, “puddings” (a favourite actually to this day), and lots of dairy, eggs, cheese, honey, as well as foods that contained gelatine (gummy bears!) and other animal-derived ingredients. I also wore leather (shoes, belts, even a jacket), bought down jackets and bedding, clothing made from silk and wool, and used cosmetics tested on animals. I was still a teenager and utterly unaware of animal welfare issues. Again, keep in mind that all of this happened pre-Internet.
I remember becoming aware of animal welfare issues at age 19, when I moved into my own apartment while studying journalism & communication science and political science at the University of Vienna. From that point on, I became more aware of a variety of issues, which eventually affected my consumer behaviour, and which I’ll describe in more detail in the following weeks and months.
But let’s take another look at the availability of information today. Back in the 1980s information was hard to come by. The Internet has changed all that. If you google the term “animal welfare” you will get 50 million hits – and all the information you need.
This is something that companies must keep in mind when they want to sell their products or offer their services to (potential) consumers today. In this day and age, consumers care about “sustainability” (39.5 million hits on Google) and “ethical companies” (42 million hits on Google). Countless NGOs and consumer rights organisations shine a light on companies, which behave unethically, or sell products, which damage the environment or ignore animal welfare issues. Companies can get away for a while with unethical behaviour – years even -, but eventually they’ll get their asses kicked in a very public way by NGOs or concerned citizens.
It’s downright stupid and shows a lack of foresight, if a company behaves unethically or launches an new product or service, which will eventually put it firmly in the crosshairs of critical consumers and NGOs. In the digital world, if you behave unethically, you’ll eventually get caught. It’s as simple as that.
So why risk it? Why risk damaging your company’s reputation and losing all your customers when there are options? More and more businesses thrive by marketing their products and services to consumers who care about the environment, child & slave labour, and animal welfare issues. There are countless opportunities for profit for companies, which market their products and services to “ethical consumers.” Our numbers are growing (21.7 million hits on Google), and we’re very vocal about products and companies, which we consider unethical. For a company in the 21st century, in a digital world, its long-term survival depends on good corporate citizenship – and that includes showing concern for labour issues as well as environmental and animal welfare issues.
Oh, and one more thing: scrap those multi-million dollar/Euros bonuses for company executives, stop producing everything in Asia, and pay your corporation taxes, for crying out loud. Consumer outrage knows no bounds on those issues.
A few links:
Ethical Consumer: the alternative consumer organisation
Study: Consumer Attitudes to Animal Welfare
Guardian: The animal welfare and antitrust issues behind America’s cheap meat
Christopher Leonard, book: The Meat Racket: The Secret Takeover of America’s Food
PETA: Cosmetics and Household-Product Animal Testing
PETA: Animals Abused And Killed for Their Skins
Mercy for Animals: Undercover Investigations of Factory Farms and Slaughterhouses
Animals Australia: Exposing Live Export Cruelty
Belfast Telegraph: 14,000 animals killed for university research at Queen’s and University of Ulster