The tension of rights and wrongs: a critique of combining rights with welfare

funny-cartoon-car-crash-275015Welfare campaigns (for example those run by HSUS and CIWF) are not generally of particular interest for animal rights advocates. Welfare campaigns function to promote less bad treatment for animals, and that is essentially what they do. A rights perspective would say that we cannot promote welfare (from within the industry of exploitation) because to do so we would first have to accept the violation of that individual’s intrinsic rights.

So there is a difference between rights and welfare, and there is no particular requirement beyond pointing out that difference; that if you care for animals why exploit them, or support any campaign that does, when you could instead be vegan and do effective vegan / animal rights advocacy. (We can also do ‘activism’ and ‘veganism’ at the same time, there is no reason to consider them as separate entities, in fact, combining these aspects is important).

The issue arises where vegans promote or construct welfare campaigns. In the first instance it is disingenuous to do so because if you believe animals should not be exploited as per the reasons you are vegan, then why promote the exploitation of animals in various albeit possibly less harmful ways? This is where a lot of ‘conflict’ arises; originating where people bring together (1) aspects of welfare and rights, having either not realised or acknowledged the clash between them.

Those campaigns that do promote welfare fail to adequately define veganism, because veganism or rights is viewed as getting in the way of the campaign to reduce harm. The campaign (2) does not set out to abolish the industry (at least in the first instance), rather the intent is to help animals suffer slightly less miserable lives in that system of exploitation, and/or people to purchase fewer animals from that system of exploitation (these intentions are also present in an animal rights perspective (3)).

If the idea of veganism is raised then it would lead to the negation of the welfare campaign by advertently presenting the logical conclusion. In this way introducing veganism is often argued as a ‘bad’ thing, because people are ‘not rational’ and lack the capacity to make rational choices (a somewhat elitist approach). However, this approach also relies on the fact people care about animals, at least enough to engage with their campaigns, but not (they assume) enough to be availed of a vegan or rights based message (in regards to a full definition of veganism incorporating both philosophy and lifestyle).

The way forward from this situation is where rights based advocates have taken an approach that is grounded in justice, and where we adopt an intersectional approach (4) to animal rights that is supportive of *all* justice movements (within the broad human, animal, earth approaches). If we are merely campaigning for different forms of exploitation within a narrow framework of welfare there isn’t that necessary foundation for an expansive approach to justice (welfare through exploitation is not compatible with a justice perspective).

We already have the potential (5) to adopt a broad based justice approach within animal rights and by encouraging (and developing) critical thinking we can apply that method to all systems of oppression, by looking at issues of privilege (6), liberation, and oppression. We can take that broad approach in solidarity with other justice movements, and demonstrate there is no tangible barrier between them.


(1) I think it can be argued that when we transition to veganism, there is also a transition through the perspective of welfare to that of rights.  The paradigm may have shifted yet we can remain entangled in welfare.

(2) Reducetarianism can be taken as an example.

(3) Animal rights activism is not reliant on people going vegan ‘right now’, instead it presents a consistent rights based message (it is reasonable to assume people will gravitate toward veganism, as it can take time to learn about the practice once we have decided we no longer wish to exploit animals unnecessarily).  Tom Regan also gives the example of muddlers where people move in various ways toward animal rights.  The issue of less suffering within systems of exploitation also arises from animal rights advocacy because the industry attempts to appease a society moving towards a position of rights/veganism.

(4) Where it is claimed that ‘other’ justice movements aren’t interested in animal rights, we should not be surprised given our non-vegan world, and neither have our animal rights campaigns been constructed as an issue of justice that would appeal to other justice advocates.

(5) Particularly in relation to coalition building for animal liberation, the hidden cost of patriarchy, vegan praxis of black lives matter, critiquing privilege in animal advocacy circles.

(6) Privilege is that which we gain from discrimination.



A definition of veganism from Leslie Cross (1951).

From animals to anarchism by Watkinson and O’Driscoll (2014).

The entanglements of welfare campaigns. (Orcas and animals)

The phenomenon of new welfarism. (Orcas and animals)

Welfarists do welfare by Roger Yates.



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