3 Important Considerations for Animal Activists Collaborating with Vegan Businesses

Working towards a better world for all sentient beings seems like an overwhelming and daunting task. The issue at hand is pressing, yet the scale of the problem often means that overall progress will be a slow, challenging, and sometimes frustrating process.

Because of the scope and urgency of the problem, as well as different individual and organizational feelings, incentives, and investment into the issue, there will be varying levels of approaches and strategies. However, like most things, there will be a necessary component of building alliances for collaboration and allyship.

Vegan Businesses and Animal Activists

One common type of collaboration is going to involve types of partnerships between for-profit vegan or plant-based businesses and more typical "on the street" activism that is the result of (often unpaid) emotional and time investment in local events.

However, because the two types of approaches, where one is more profit-oriented and the other has activism as a clear focus, differ quite dramatically, it makes sense to approach issues of collaboration in an productive way that acknowledges the constraints that the two different groups are operating within.

I think the following considerations might be helpful for those in either direct activism roles or for those who run or are in some way involved with a more business type of operation.

1: Setting Social Norms for Communication

Besides the overall good idea of always being exceptionally kind, I think a norm that might be worth considering and trying to adhere to is that of privacy in terms of personal communications. I think most people approach email or personal messages in terms of one-to-one communication.

If the two different representatives (activism and business) have the knowledge that their communication with each other might be published publically, then that might create an environment where both activists and businesses are disinclined to engage with each other in fear of their comments being published and shared.

While a counter argument might be that such a fear might lead to more polite and courteous communications, I think that is unlikely and even if effective to that end, using a negative fear of social backlash does not seem conducive to future positive collaboration.

2: Activists and Business Owners Should Not Work Against Each Other

In the case where one party is uncomfortable with collaboration for whatever reason, expressing disappointment at an unideal outcome is fine and very warranted. However, I personally do not think that a business owner should delegitimize types of activism that many activists consider effective. Doing so could damage ones business, especially when statements of delegitimization are public statements (ie., comments on a business page). 

Additionally, though, I do not think it is overall productive to criticize a vegan or plant-based business for not choosing to collaborate. Clearly if a business de-legitimizes types of valid activism, then that does not feel good and maybe criticism is warranted.

However a business operating with for-profit and marketing constraints and that may be risk-adverse to politicizing their business should be understood and acknowledged that they are a relatively rare type of business and are operating in an environment that is competitive and often based on image and perception.

3: Reciprocity is a Good Norm but Should not be Misapplied

One smaller point is that activist organizers or participants probably are incorrect to feel like there is a type of reciprocity where they patronize vegan or plant-based businesses often and thus a business not supporting their political or social actions is a type of norm of reciprocity that is not being respected.

While in an ideal world there would be more vegan and plant-based restaurants and we would have much more choice in finding a business that aligns with our ideals, the fact is that we don't have many choices and the existing establishments are necessarily going to be fairly depoliticized and for-profit establishments. Businesses are inherently going to be about profit, and the type of reciprocity is that of a transaction.

While a business seeking to further develop their niche and be open to more types of politicized or socially aware activism is a good thing, it shouldn't necessarily be an expectation given most of the constraints they operate in.

Hopefully these (informal) thoughts will be helpful for everyone who is trying to help animals as well as work to create more of a sense of a positive and collaborative community who cares about animals.