Veganism is now recognised as a philosophical belief. What does it mean?

A wave of panic washed over the twitterati when a judge in Great Britain ruled that ethical veganism should now be considered a protected class, like religion is. This ruling, combined with the release of Greggs vegan sausage rolls, had some people in the throes of despair. But what does this ruling actually mean and what are the real life consequences? 

An employment tribunal made the decision in a case involving a man (Jordi Casamitjana) who claimed he was fired from his job because he was a vegan.

The tribunal has not yet ruled on the case of his dismissal, but it did take the step of deciding that the man’s ethical veganism constitutes a “philosophical and religious belief” protected by anti-discrimination law.

The Equality Act 2010  defines “religion or belief” as one of the nine “protected characteristics,” which include race, sex, pregnancy and maternity, making it unlawful for employers to discriminate on those grounds. Now ethical veganism falls under this law as well. 


What is ethical veganism?

The distinction that is made here is that between dietary veganism and ethical veganism. A dietary vegan is someone who eats a vegan diet but doesn’t otherwise consider animal welfare, for example who might wear leather or fur. Often dietary vegans are vegan out of health considerations.

Ethical vegans try to exclude all forms of animal exploitation from their lifestyle. For instance, they avoid wearing or buying clothing made from wool or leather, or toiletries from companies that carry out animal testing.


What are the real-life consequences of the passing of this ruling? 

  1. You can no longer be fired just because you are vegan. The same way you cannot be fired for being muslim, gay, or transgender. 

There are little stories known about vegans being fired just for being vegan, but it is not completely unheard of. There are cases known of employees being fired for holding onto beliefs, for example a bus driver who refused to hand out vouchers for hamburgers. 

Casamitjana, the claimant, said: “The direct implication is that nobody can be sacked or threatened to be sacked based on their beliefs. It will be easier for people to say ‘look, this belief is protected by law’. 

2. You cannot be bullied or discriminated against because of your veganism.

Well, you can, because humans are humans. But if it happens, you will now have a law backing you up. Being bullied for veganism is now officially in the level as racism, sexism and discrimination. Not much has changed though, before this law passed you were not supposed to bully or discriminate people either.

That bullying or discrimination of vegans is not unheard of, is shown by the Vegan Society page where you can get tips about handling workplace discrimination. 

Casamitjana also states: “Many people have supported me because they, or their friends, have experienced discrimination for being ethical vegans. Hopefully, from [the law suit], something positive will come by ensuring other ethical vegans are better protected in the future.

3. It might have consequences in other fields. If you can ask your hospital for kosher or halal food, on the same ground you should be able to ask for vegan food. schools might be asked to provide vegan options. 

The implications are considerable, not least because the legal protection will apply beyond employment, in areas such as education and the supply of goods and services. It could also encourage others to seek similar protection for their philosophical beliefs.


4. Inclusion of vegans and moral support

Study of twitter shows that veganism is not always welcomed with open arms, or even accepted without ridicule. This ruling could mean that companies in the future are obliged to provide vegan option, and places wouldn’t be able to refuse entrance to vegans.

If you believe deeply in something that a part of society ridicules, it is incredible hope giving to have a judge rule in your favor. And in today’s world of rising temperatures and rising sealevels, veganism is a big part towards a more sustainable world. In that case, any ruling that helps vegans feel safe and respected is a good thing. 

For many non-vegans this ruling was seen as a part of a gliding scale system, where vegans get more and more rights and meat eating is increasingly discouraged and made less accessible. It’s not unimaginable and the anger of the twitter trolls is not unfounded. 


In the end, the consequences of this ruling are currently not immense. The scope is not yet known, and will be determined by future laws and future lawsuits. And while it currently inspired a lot of ridicule, in the future it might be a start towards more inclusion and acceptance of ethical vegans.