by Andrew Robertson, Trainee Solicitor
Further to our blog on, ‘Should vegetarianism be a protected belief? Conisbee v Crossley Farms Limited’, the Employment Tribunal has released another interesting decision in the field of philosophical beliefs, this time concerning vegans.
In the case of Jordi Casamitjana v The League against Cruel Sports, the Tribunal was required to determine if ethical veganism qualifies as a philosophical belief capable of protection under Section 10 of the Equality Act 2010 (“the Act”).
‘Philosophical belief’ test
As noted in the previous blog post, the test for establishing a philosophical belief capable of protection under the Act is stated by Burton J in the case of Grainger Plc v Nicholson  EAT 0219/09/ZT (also contained at paragraph 52 of the Equality Act’s explanatory notes).
The test states that the belief must be:-
- genuinely held;
- a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of the information available;
- a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
- attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and
- be worthy of respecting the democratic society, be not incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
Mr Casamitjana is a qualified Zoologist and has dedicated his life to helping animals in need, working in the animal protection industry most of his working life. He became vegan in 2000 and as part of this he disposed of his clothes and belongings that contained any animal products.
Philosophically, veganism is rooted in the ancient concept of Ahimsa. Ahimsa is one of the cardinal values of religions such as Jainism, Hinduism and Buddhism in that, “All living beings have the spark of the divine spiritual energy and therefore to hurt another being is to hurt oneself.”
Ethical veganism is not about simply the choice of diet, but about people choosing to live as far as practicable without the use of animal products. It is defined by the Vegan Society as, “A way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose”.
Mr Casamitjana averred that he takes all reasonable steps to ascertain that each product or service he uses complies with his belief. In support, he listed a number of examples showing his adherence to this belief. For example, if his destination is within an hour walking distance he would walk to avoid accidental crashes with insects or birds when taking vehicular transport. He also shaves with an electric shaver powered by electricity bought from the Ecotricity, a power supplier which has been certified by the Vegan Society to provide vegan friendly electricity. Ecotricity’s energy is vegan because it is produced solely from wind, solar and tidal sources and does not use any animals or animal by-products in any stage of the production process.
It is clear that Mr Casamitjana will exhaust all reasonable steps to ascertain if any animal by-products are involved in the production of a particular item and, where possible, he will avoid that product.
Having in mind the above legal test for a philosophical belief, Employment Judge Postle considered each in turn:-
1. The Respondents conceded, and the Employment Judge concurred, that it was clear from the evidence submitted that Mr Casamitjana genuinely and sincerely holds his belief in ethical veganism.
2. It was clear to Employment Judge Postle that ethical veganism carries with it an important moral essential, founded upon a long standing tradition recognising the consequences of non-human animal sentience which has been upheld by both religious and atheists alike. It was clear that Mr Casamitjana dedicates himself to that belief in all aspects of his life, from where he works, to what he eats, to what he wears.
3. The Employment Judge determined that the belief in ethical veganism is a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour, noting that, “the relationship between the humans and other fellow creatures is plainly a substantial aspect of human life, it has sweeping consequences on human behaviour and clearly is capable of constituting a belief which seeks to avoid the exploitation of fellow species.”
4. Employment Judge Postle determined that ethical veganism does obtain a high level of cogency, cohesion and importance. Citing the definition of the Vegan Society, noted above, ethical veganism is a philosophy and a way of life which aims to exclude the exploitation and cruelty to animals for food, clothing or any other purpose and, in turn, promotes the use of animal free alternatives in all aspects of human life. Employment Judge Postle looked to examples in everyday life, noting that, for example, there is a community within businesses and restaurants which adheres and accommodates this ethical principal, with most restaurants now offering at least one vegan food option.
5. Lastly, Employment Judge Postle considered that it is clear that ethical veganism “does not in any way offend society”, and “is increasingly recognised nationally, particularly by the environmental benefits of vegan observance”.
This decision is perhaps no surprise given the comments made in the Conisbee case, which found vegetarianism to fall short of the philosophical belief requirements. The Tribunal in Conisbee drew a clear distinction between vegetarianism and veganism, noting that the latter is a clear, cogent and cohesive belief (one of the two strands upon which vegetarianism fell short).
As before, this Tribunal decision points towards an approach whereby what is considered a philosophical belief under the Act will change in line with societal movements and developments. It is a malleable concept, with the Nicholson test providing a framework from which we can assess and evaluate any potential new claim for a philosophical belief in a balanced and fair way.