updated: June 2013
Uncaged’s boycott list was for many years a mine of useful information for Ethical Consumer when rating cosmetics companies. Last year the campaign organisation became no more to make way for the Centre for Animals and Social Justice (CASJ) – a think tank for animals and social justice.
Katy Brown spoke to Dan Lyons – campaigner at Uncaged for many years and one of the founders of CASJ – about the new organisation and what prompted the change in direction.
Campaigner Dan Lyons
Can you tell us a bit about your new initiative the Centre for Animals and Social Justice (CASJ)?
The CASJ was formed by myself and Angela Roberts, having both led Uncaged in its campaigns for over 20 years. Our campaign experience and my PhD in animal research politics gave us the opportunity to develop into a research think tank organisation.
As campaigners, we found it was very hard to have any impact at government level which is critical, because at the end of the day the government decides what happens to animals through law and policy making.
We realised we needed to fundamentally change the way government deals with animal welfare issues. The problem seems be that there are no bodies or laws within government that provide a level of basic consideration for animals. So whenever animal welfare is threatened by other powerful groups – such as those behind animal testing or factory farming – animal welfare is almost always sacrificed because it isn’t seen as a meaningful goal by governments.
What do you hope to achieve?
Our main activities are conducting high quality academic research into the politics of animal protection to develop policy recommendations that will enshrine animal protection as a core goal of government.
Why did you decide to change tack?
Until deeper political change has happened, all campaign groups face an uphill battle. We’re trying to achieve a more level playing field so campaigners have more chance of success for animals.
Uncaged was heavily involved boycott campaigns. Do you still think boycotts can be an effective way to drive change?
Yes, I think they are useful as a way of raising public awareness and provide momentum for an issue. However I think in the vast majority of cases, boycott campaigns don’t have sufficient resources to reach enough people to make a significant impact on the target.
Having said that they are vital as a matter of individuals’ principles because one thing we can do is not give financial resources to companies that behave unethically.
The ultimate task for boycott campaigns is for the principles they are based on to become institutionalised in our political system. A great example of that is the recent EU sales ban on animaltested cosmetics. Boycotts are an essential stage towards change but aren’t sufficient on their own.
What other roles can consumers play in driving change?
Consumers, in addition to ensuring their consumption is consistent with their moral principles have to campaign as citizens to drive change. Many people find it difficult to put politics into practice e.g. because ethical products are more expensive or not widely available.
Policy change is essential to change the broader environment to make it easier for consumers to make ethical choices. Labelling laws are an example of legislative change that would help here e.g. a requirement that products are labelled as such if they are tested on animals.
At the moment the law reflects the interests of companies not consumers. What drives you to keep on doing what you’re doing?
It’s the potential for change that hasn’t been realised that keeps me going. Focusing on achieving an idealistic animal rights world is probably utopian but giving animals much better protection has a lot of potential if you look at where the public stand – way ahead of the indifference shown towards animals by current policy.
Potentially, millions of animals would benefit if we could make public policy more democratic and responsive to fairly modest ethical positions e.g. that animal welfare should be a significant legal consideration. At the moment at both a national and international government level animal welfare doesn’t register as an issue, and that has to change.
Find out more at www.casj.org.uk