One of Australia's leading animal rights activists has urged Australian corporate lawyers to advocate for change in relation to laws which fall short of changing social expectations.
Speaking at the Australian Corporate Lawyers Association (ACLA) NSW In-house Counsel Symposium on Tuesday (29 March), Brian Sherman AM, a philanthropist and founder of animal welfare body Voiceless, said that corporations and their in-house counsel should be leading the charge when it comes to effecting legal change through social responsibility.
"While corporations law currently falls short of what is fair and just and ethical in respect to animals, I firmly believe that corporations have an opportunity to act responsibly and take the lead by responding proactively to changing social values," he said.
"We are working to establish animal protection as the next great social movement, and your participation is intrinsic to this."
Sherman left his native South Africa in 1976 due to his repugnance towards the principle of apartheid and, after making his fortune in Australia and the US through various business ventures, now devotes his time to the animal welfare movement.
Through Voiceless, Sherman and his team have been able to promote animal law as a subject now taught in universities, enlist numerous high-profile law firms to provide pro bono work, and bring the plight of farm animals into the spotlight thanks to numerous grants, publications, research projects and high-profile supporters.
Sherman now believes the time is right for corporations to take responsibility and engage in what he says is a rapidly growing movement.
"Animal protection is to corporations now what the environment was to corporations some 15 to 20 years ago," he said.
"Even if accountability towards animals is not yet embodied in law pertaining to corporations, we ask you to think about ... your moral and ethical duty more broadly. There is opportunity to be at the forefront of change which we believe will inevitably become law."
Sherman was joined at the ACLA Symposium by US lawyer and new Voiceless CEO Dana Campbell, who recently relocated to Australia to tackle the issue of laws which effectively permit the ill-treatment of farm animals such as pigs and chickens.
According to Campbell, while Australia is on the front-foot in relation to corporate social responsibility generally, its commitment to the welfare of farm animals falls short of many other Western nations.
"We all have families, pets and connections to our community. When we start our work days, we don't leave the house and automatically turn into a robot, leaving our hearts and souls at the doorstep," she said.
"If you knew that there were ways you could alleviate true suffering and bring the compassion that I believe each of you carries with you into your workplace, to your company shareholders, clients and employees, wouldn't you want to try?"
Campbell suggested numerous ways in which corporations could promote change in relation to animal welfare, such as incorporating animal welfare into existing CSR policies, ensuring ethical guidelines are met in relation to food purchases, and forming strategic relationships with bodies committed to animal welfare.
Campbell also pointed out that, as social expectations change, it is good business to be seen as acting ethically, and cited the example of Coles phasing out sow-stall pork - and the subsequent good will generated by that decision - as an example of how ethics can be combined with smart business decisions.
"The law, as we know, takes time to catch up with and respond to changing community values," she said.
"Ethical businesses, and the demands of their customers, can be a much quicker driver for change."