Animal welfare fundamental to corporate social responsibilities

July 24 2014

Corporate social responsibility as a mainstream business concept has been around for just over a decade. In that brief time, businesses have risen to the task of being accountable not just for profit margins, but also for the greater good of their brands.

While environmental and social metrics have been the primary focus so far, animal welfare is an equally critical part of operating a responsible business.

Seventy-three billion land animals are farmed for food each year. With a growing world population and the expected growth of middle-class economies over the next decades, demand for animal products is sure to increase. Demand for humane food is already on the rise. Sixty-seven percent of shoppers consider animal welfare when making food purchasing decisions, and 42% consider it more today than they did five years ago[1]. Purchasing is also on the rise. By 2013, dollar market share for varying items making animal welfare-related claims rose between one percent and nine percent from nearly zero in 2009[2]. But despite these trends, farm animal welfare as a CSR issue is relatively new, and businesses lack understanding and consensus on how to integrate it into their management and reporting frameworks. 

Beyond simply advocating for animal welfare, World Animal Protection provides tools and research to produce tangible change. By partnering with companies to increase the welfare of the billions of animals involved in food production around the world, World Animal Protection influences decision makers to put animals on the global agenda. This is precisely why World Animal Protection has recently joined The Sustainability Consortium (TSC), whose mission is to develop and promote science and integrated tools that improve informed decision-making for product sustainability. 

TSC Product Sustainability Toolkits highlight scientifically based issues across the life cycle of products, as well as provide key performance indicators that can be used to assess progress on those issues.  Animal welfare is an issue identified for product categories produced with animal products.  TSC also provides research services that build on the work of the toolkits.  TSC was recently approached by retailers and restaurant chains who needed additional guidance in deciding what programs and practices to encourage within their supply chains.  They indicated that they have recently experienced consumer criticism over animal welfare issues upstream in their supply chain. However, retailers are often unsure of the proper policies and practices to implement. They frequently lack in-depth knowledge and resources to assist them in their policy and sourcing choices, and thus retailers often look to certifications or standards to help guide them. But these searches can be encumbered by the overwhelming number of options, and therefore, businesses need guidance on navigating different animal welfare standardization programs. By working with retailers, academics, and welfare groups, The Sustainability Consortium is in a unique position to assist the consumer goods industry by developing credible and practical guidance to facilitate decision-making in this area.  As a result of this need, TSC has produced a program map that diagrams the animal welfare issues identified within TSC Product Sustainability Toolkits to programs in use around the world. 

Additionally, TSC is working with academics and experts to develop an animal welfare advisory services program. This program will develop further guidance on issues that are important to TSC’s members. The animal welfare advisory services program is intended to convene stakeholders and experts to facilitate an understanding of animal welfare practices and available science, and to develop consensus and actionable recommendations for scientifically based indicators that demonstrate progress and improvement in animal welfare practices. The program endeavors to create practical strategies that can be implemented by practitioners around the world. We hope that stakeholders can leverage the expertise of academic, civil society, and industry organizations to determine best practices to use to achieve their animal welfare goals.

This is a dynamic time for supply chains and animal welfare. Emerging science and increasing consumer transparency are allowing retailers and manufacturers to adopt best practices more quickly, more effectively, and with greater stakeholder engagement. By developing and communicating tools that supply chain actors can use, we can enhance the well-being of animals, while also contributing to sustainability and profitability by delivering high-quality food that consumers can feel great about buying.  It feels wonderful to collaborate with so many stakeholders to strike the right balance for all. TSC and World Animal Protection are excited to be leading the way.

About the Authors

Kara Mergl, US Manager, Corporate Engagement, World Animal Protection

Kara A. Mergl is the US Manager for Corporate Engagement at World Animal Protection. With a mission of increasing the availability of humane food, Kara focuses on collaborating with both consumers and businesses. Her work with businesses emphasizes partnership and innovative problem solving to address challenges in sourcing humane and sustainable products. During her career she has developed multiple successful programs, researched best practice and cost savings models, trained 800+ individuals worldwide on change strategies, convened stakeholder coalitions, and provided consultation to policy-makers and business communities. Kara has also presented at multiple conferences and community events worldwide. She holds a MS in Social Policy and a MSW from the University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Sarah Lewis, Managing Director of Research and Integration, The Sustainability Consortium

Dr. Sarah E. Lewis is the Managing Director of Research and Integration with The Sustainability Consortium (TSC).  In this role, she oversees sector working group and research integration strategy across TSC sectors.  Her work with TSC focuses on directing research projects and managing member relationships in order to develop the Sustainability Measurement and Reporting System (SMRS). She holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Dynamics and a Master of Arts in French from the University of Arkansas.  She received her Bachelor of Science in Biology and French Secondary Education from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.  Sarah is passionate about identifying and working through challenges at the interface of humans and the environment. An award-winning educator, Sarah is an Adjunct Professor of Environmental Sociology at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and she is the Founder and President of EcoExplique, a consultancy focused on educating communities about the economic value of environmental systems.  Sarah is an active member of her community, having served as an elected official on the Fayetteville, Arkansas City Council, and currently serving as a board member of the Illinois River Watershed Partnership. 

Matt Lyon, Social Sustainability Researcher, The Sustainability Consortium

Matt serves as a Social Sustainability Researcher, in which he performs worker, community, and consumer-based research throughout global product supply chains. Matt graduated from Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, where he majored in Philosophy. After graduation, he taught English in the Czech Republic for two years. While in Europe he managed and performed in a traveling children’s theatre troupe, aimed at teaching English through interactive performances. Matthew has also worked for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration conducting research to understand the social impacts of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. He has worked with the Pan Himalayan Grassroots Development Foundation in northern India, where he created triple bottom line assessment tools to support the efforts of its female producer-owned cooperative. He is also currently working to finish his Capstone work for a Master of Business Administration as well as a Master of Public Service from the Clinton School of Public Service.

[1] ESL Insights LLC. (2014). The Role of Animal Welfare in Food Purchasing Decision.

[2] Lusk, J.L. (2014).Trends in the Market for Animal-Based Foods with Enhanced Animal Welfare Characteristics. 

"By partnering with companies to increase the welfare of the billions of animals involved in food production around the world, World Animal Protection influences decision makers to put animals on the global agenda."

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