Will veganism become a protected employment characteristic?

Will veganism become a protected employment characteristic?

There are now 600,000 vegans in the UK, according to the Vegan Society. This represents a four-fold increase on the number in 2014 and, more and more, veganism and the beliefs underpinning the way of life are filtering into the mainstream of British conversation.

One member of campaign group Direct Action Everywhere, Matthew McKeefry, believes that his organisation could "eradicate the meat industry within a generation," as quoted in the Independent. The group protested inside a Brazillian restaurant in Brighton in November 2018.

Jordi Casamitjana, a practicing vegan, is taking his former employer, the League Against Cruel Sports, to an employment tribunal to determine whether veganism is a “philosophical belief” in the same way as a religious belief. The case will be heard in March.

What is veganism?

Vegans eschew any meat or animal-derived products under a belief that “man should live without exploiting animals”.

According to Wikipedia:

  • dietary vegans do not eat meat or any foodstuff derived from animals including milk, eggs, and honey.
  • ethical vegans follow the same dietary practices as dietary vegans as well as campaigning against the use of animals for any reason
  • environmental vegans avoid animal products because of the damage they believe that industrial farming causes the planet

What is a protected employment characteristic?

The concept of protected characteristics was legislated for with the Equality Act 2010. It bars discrimination against another person (including employment discrimination) on the following grounds:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

What is a “philosophical belief”?

According to the Equality Human Rights organisation, a belief is something which "should affect your life choices or the way you live for it to be included in the definition".

What do both parties in this case say?

Mr Casamitjana told BBC News that "some people only eat a vegan diet but they don’t care about the environment or the animals, they only care about their health… I use this term ‘ethical veganism’ because for me veganism is a belief and affects every single aspect of my life. It is important for all the vegans to know that if they want to talk about veganism, they are protected and no-one will say ‘shut up’. It is important that the law protects vegans".

Mr Casamitjana, working at the League Against Cruel Sports, discovered that the organisation’s pension fund had invested in companies which engaged on animal testing of their products. He drew this to the attention of his manager and later, after discovering that there had no been changes to the pension fund, told other staff members and was then dismissed.

The League Against Cruel Sports emphatically deny the charge that Mr Casamitjana’s dismissal was because of discrimination against vegans or whistleblowing.

What are the implications of the case?

Mr Casamitjana’s solicitor, Peter Daly, of Bindmans LLP, was reported on BBC News as saying that "if we are successful, we will achieve a judgment which formally recognises the protected status of ethical veganism and which could then be used as the basis to combat discrimination against vegans in employment, in the provision of goods and services, and in education. This is therefore a landmark case."

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