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Should Vegans Have the Same Protections as Religious People? A 'Landmark' Case Will Decide

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Animal rights activists give water to pigs arriving by truck to the Farmer John slaughterhouse on Sept. 26, in Vernon, California. David McNew / Getty Images

In the UK, it is unlawful for an employer to fire an employee based on their religion or belief. By the same token, is it ok for an employer to fire an employee if they are ethical vegans?

The question of whether vegans have the same anti-discrimination protections as religious people under UK law will be answered at an employment tribunal next March—the first case of its kind in Britain.


Jordi Casamitjana, 54, is an ethical vegan who claims he was dismissed in April by his former employer League Against Cruel Sports "after I blew the whistle that their pension fund was being invested in companies involved in animal testing," he wrote on his crowdfunding page.

In response, the animal welfare charity told CNN it is a "vegan friendly employer." A spokesperson said that Casamitjana was fired for "gross misconduct," not for his dietary preferences.

"The discussion about veganism being a 'philosophical belief' is a thought-provoking one which many of our staff will be interested in—however this debate has absolutely no connection with why Mr. Casamitjana was sacked," the spokesperson added.

Vegans abstain from consuming animals and animal products, but there's a difference between those who do it for health reasons (dietary vegans), or those who do it for moral or environmental reasons.

"Some people only eat a vegan diet but they don't care about the environment or the animals, they only care about their health," Casamitjana, who has been an ethical vegan for 17 years, explained the BBC.

"I care about the animals and the environment and my health and everything," he added. "That's why I use this term 'ethical veganism' because for me veganism is a belief and affects every single aspect of my life."

Under UK law, veganism must adhere to the following points to qualify as a philosophical belief:

  • Be genuinely held,
  • Be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behavior,
  • Attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance,
  • Be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others,
  • Be a belief, not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available

Casamitjana's law firm, Bindmans LLP, said in a press release it was "bringing a landmark case."

"If successful, the case will protect ethical vegans from discrimination on the grounds of their belief," the firm said.

Interestingly, Casamitjana's case has legs. When Quartz presented this question to three philosophers, they all agreed that veganism met the requirements of a philosophical belief and deserved the same legal protection as religion.

"I think it's a sounder belief than any of the religions," Peter Singer, utilitarian philosopher at Princeton University, told the publication. "I think veganism rests on a strong moral foundation. It's clearly a deep belief, it affects your life and the way you behave and outlook on the world, and I think should count as philosophical belief."

If the tribunal also agrees, the discrimination claim will proceed to a full trial, according to the BBC. Casamitjana's hearing is set for March 13 and 14.

There was similar case in the U.S., in which a court rejected the argument that veganism was merely an eating habit. In Chenzira v. Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, a federal district court in Ohio found that the sincerely held belief of a vegan employee—who was fired for rejecting the flu vaccine because it was grown in chicken eggs—may support a religious discrimination claim and merited protection under the law. The case was ultimately settled out of court in 2013.

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Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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