While conversations surrounding veganism tend to focus on the rights and welfare of
animals, many of us view veganism as an intersectional movement, meaning that we are
concerned with more than only non-human animals and their treatment. All oppression is linked, and all forms stem from the idea that some lives are worth less than others. Humans are of course exploited in ways that animals are not, yet many of the mechanisms involved in the oppression of animals are employed in every other kind of systematic exploitation. We objectify those we wish to exploit, we make them other, we assert that they are ‘not like us’ and insist we are superior to them according to what are, generally speaking, fairly arbitrary criteria.

The classical arguments in favour of exploiting animals have all been used to defend
exploiting humans throughout our history, that it’s normal, natural, necessary, claims about ‘natural’ hierarchy, that exploiting a group is somehow in their best interests. We believe that living beings should have rights, yet throughout history, we have qualified this by saying ‘except for them.’ The groups we have decided to exclude from our circle of moral consideration have changed throughout the years, but how we use our power against the powerless remains largely the same.

Even without acknowledging the interlinked nature of animal and human oppression, there are several compelling reasons to boycott animal products purely from a human rights perspective. Animal agriculture comes with many human rights concerns, perhaps chief among them is the plight of slaughterhouse workers. Treatment of course depends on the company employing them, but as a group, slaughterhouse workers are some of the most exploited workers of any industry, with both their physical and mental health suffering as a result. First-hand testimonies reveal the psychological harm being inflicted on workers, as well as the lack of support available to them.

This means that slaughterhouse workers are much more likely than the general population to suffer from problems with alcohol and substance abuse.3 They are also much more likely to suffer from mental health issues such as PTSD from working under extremely stressful conditions. These workers also have astonishingly high rates of injury due to a high-pressure, dangerous working environment. The Human Rights Watch reports that the industry routinely avoids administering their workers’ compensation, by systematically failing to recognise and report claims, or purposely
delaying or denying them.

There have been many reported cases of companies threatening to take reprisals against those workers who claim compensation for workplace injuries. Many workers are poor immigrants or other marginalised people with few other choices. It is not only workers who are affected – large farming facilities produce more than 400 harmful gases and a staggering amount of waste, which pollutes local air, streams, and waterways.

Communities surrounding these facilities are constantly exposed to hydrogen sulphide, which can cause flu-like symptoms, with high concentrations of exposure even leading to brain damage. Methane, another gas surrounding communities are constantly exposed to, can lead to vision problems, heart palpitations, brain damage, respiratory problems, and can even prove fatal. Animal agriculture industries are well aware of these impacts, having been presented with multiple lawsuits linking these gases to severe health issues and deaths, so corporations make sure to establish their facilities in those communities least likely to be able to mount a legal challenge.

This means that these facilities disproportionately affect impoverished communities and people of colour; counties with larger black and Latinx populations are almost invariably home to more factory farms. You may wonder why the affected communities don’t simply move away, but with poverty already restricting the options of many, these facilities also immediately drive down land values due to the health problems they cause. This means that many residents cannot afford to sell their homes and relocate, or are simply unable to find a buyer, and lack the means to afford to mount any serious legal challenge.

When people try to speak up against these corrupt industries, either on behalf of local
communities or on behalf of animals, they are often met with legal action and even criminal charges. Some states in the US and parts of Canada have even passed so-called ‘ag-gag’ laws, designed to prosecute those who whistleblow against documented animal cruelty or on behalf of affected communities.13 These laws are devastating for both the human and animal victims of animal agriculture, yet continue to be enforced.

This is because the meat and dairy industries have enormously powerful political lobbies. This means they can influence politicians to pass legislation that serves their interests, at the cost of human and animal lives. A stark example of this occurred in Alabama very recently (2024), with the passing of Senate Bill 23 which would make it a class C felony to manufacture, sell or distribute cultivated (lab-grown) meat, an alternative to animal meat. The bill was sponsored by Senator Jack Williams… A cattle farmer.

The animal agriculture industries are stark examples of the excesses of capitalism, and the power of corporations to oppress human beings as well as animals. It is tempting to just lay the blame entirely at their feet, yet we consumers give them their power by actively funding them when we purchase the products they produce. We vote with our money, and by choosing to fund these industries we tacitly support these abuses, even if we aren’t fully aware of the impact at the time of purchase. These corporations depend on our ignorance, and our sense of powerlessness to oppose what they are doing. By boycotting these industries, we withdraw our support for these horrific acts and seek to disempower this abhorrent industry for good.