The following is a summary of a conversation that took place on June 24, 2014 as part of our investigation of corporate outreach. Josh spoke with Allison Smith, ACE’s Director of Research.
Work with restaurants at COK
Josh worked at Compassion over Killing (COK) from 2002-2005, and at that time their corporate outreach consisted of working with restaurants, mostly in the DC metro area, to add more plant-based options to their menus. At that time they weren’t working with large corporations.
Josh, who was the only person at COK working on corporate outreach, worked with some restaurants who seemed (from their menus and marketing) like they would be inclined to offer more plant-based options. He also contacted other restaurants on recommendations from customers who were also supporters of COK, and some that he just went into when he was in the area.
Josh estimates that several dozen restaurants added vegan options as a result of his work. Some made larger changes than others. The most dramatic success was with a restaurant that initially had some plant-based options, then partly as a result of work with COK had an all-vegan day and ultimately became 100% vegetarian. At the same time, COK expanded their guide to veg eating in DC, VegDC, both when restaurants added items and when they found restaurants had existing options of which they hadn’t been aware.
Work at HSUS
Josh left COK to start working in the Farm Animal Protection Campaign at HSUS in early 2005.
Corporate outreach as part of a larger strategy: battery cages
The first consideration in planning a campaign at HSUS is the type of change that they want for animals. Much of Josh’s focus at both HSUS and COK has been on the suffering of chickens in the egg industry, and specifically in battery cages. They devised a strategy to ultimately try to abolish battery cages; part of that strategy was to work with corporations, especially major egg buyers, to start switching them to cage-free eggs. Of course this doesn’t mean that the chickens have a perfect life, but they have much better lives than if they were confined in battery cages for their entire existence.
The corporate outreach part of this strategy has meant reaching out to large restaurant chains, food service companies, food manufacturers, grocery stores, hotels, and universities. Then HSUS works with them to help develop policies that they can use to switch to cage-free eggs.
The combination of passing laws and working with corporate entities has driven the issue forward. Now even the egg industry concedes that bare battery cages are on their last several years of widespread use. According the the American Egg Board, about 12% of the industry has shifted to non-cage production (cage-free, free-range, organic, or pasture), up from around 1% when activists started campaigning against battery cages. This means about 33 million animals are now living outside cages.
Josh thinks food companies can do more to affect animals than perhaps anyone else can, just because a single policy can affect so many animals. Whereas one person might have done the negotiations with a company, the negotiations depend on a lot of other people’s work. 10 states now have passed laws banning battery cages, gestation crates, and/or veal crates, and legislation and corporate efforts go hand-in-hand. Legislators want to know what corporations are doing, and corporations want to know what legislators are doing, so both types of effort help each other. Corporate and legal bans feed off each other in a positive way. Investigations are also key because they expose cruelties which can be legislated against or have corporate policies created against them.
Process of approaching a company
When HSUS wants to work with a corporation, they send an email to the company and ask to meet. If they’re able to meet, they form a relationship which is almost always positive and work together to implement policies that are better for animals. If the company is hesitant or does not want to meet, HSUS raises the level of attention on the issue by actions like filing shareholder resolutions, meeting with shareholders, and having friends of executives reach out to ask them to work on the issue. They use every professional tactic they can think of to encourage companies to implement policies that will have tangible benefits for animals.
A lot of HSUS’s public exposure is a side benefit of their work in passing laws, working with corporations, or undercover investigations. They don’t have an advertising budget that allows them to reach the whole country and start a discussion about confinement issues, but they get free (except for the PR specialist’s salary) media that reaches the same number of people by incorporating media outreach into their legal and corporate efforts. For example, HSUS did an undercover investigation in 2007 that got national media coverage and even led to congressional hearings. Some of this free media attention has increased executives’ awareness of the issues that HSUS contacts them about.
The hardest victory in an area is the first one. Once HSUS starts getting a whole line of companies creating policies, it’s difficult for their competitors not to go along with it as well. So in any sector, they need a leader to make the first policy. For gestation crates, that was McDonald’s on the restaurant side, Compass Group on the foodservice side, ConAgra on food manufacturing, and Safeway in groceries. Once they have these leaders, they can point out these successes to competitors to demonstrate that the change will fit in their business model. The gestation crate campaign has been very successful with these tactics; virtually every major player in the food industry has created a policy against it. For cage-free eggs, they have used similar tactics, but those policies are harder to get corporations to implement because they are more expensive.
HSUS’s team is actively engaged in communication with around 100 major food companies at a time. It can take several weeks to several years for these discussions to result in policy changes.
Ending a campaign and re-focusing
HSUS is close now to having so many victories on the gestation crate issue that the practice will die out. Josh is in contact with pork companies, and the companies that still use gestation crates have yet to tell him where they will sell their products as anti-gestation-crate policies go into effect. Right now the industry seems to be somewhat in shock, as animal advocates have made big gains in a short time; HSUS has only been devoting this level of effort to gestation crates for a couple of years. Some companies have accepted the new reality and announced plans to make changes, and others will either have to shift or have their competitors take their business.
Looking forward, HSUS will continue to focus corporate outreach efforts on confinement issues. They were working on a federal bill for a couple of years that would have created policy similar to the EU regulations for egg-laying hens, which ban battery cages. They had support from the egg industry, but the pork and cattle industries convinced ag legislators to block the bill. So now they have a renewed focus on corporate avenues for creating that change.
How many people work on corporate outreach?
There are two people at HSUS who work on corporate outreach around confinement issues, Josh and Matt Prescott. Paul Shapiro also works on campaigns with a couple of companies, but that’s not his main role.
It’s harder to judge how many people are working on corporate efforts in a larger sense. For example, sometimes undercover investigations lead to corporate efforts, but that’s not their entire purpose. Josh’s understanding is that at most other organizations, including Mercy For Animals, The Humane League, and COK, there’s one person who is the corporate outreach liaison. The people who work with the companies depend on the work done in undercover investigations and by PR departments to support their negotiations.
Meatless Mondays is related to corporate campaigns in that it involves policy decisions that affect a large number of people and animals. HSUS has 4 people working on Meatless Monday, and they work mostly with schools. These have different challenges than working with corporations on confinement issues.
Relationship of Meatless Mondays to corporate outreach on other issues
HSUS’s Meatless Monday team works with school districts, colleges, universities, hospitals, and corporate cafeterias to promote Meatless Mondays. The policies implemented vary: in some places Mondays are 100% meatless, in others they increase the number of meatless options, and in others they increase promotion of the options that are already there.
HSUS uses events called Food Forward to bring directors of dining and chefs together to learn about the best way to make and market plant-based meals and talk to students, children, and parents about Meatless Monday. They have presentations from people who have implemented these policies so that people aren’t just hearing from HSUS but also from their peers. At these events, they talk about the business case for Meatless Mondays, the ethical case for it, and also the best methods of success. They’ve had 8 of these events so far.
The big difference between working with corporations and working with school districts is that HSUS has purchased stock in virtually every major publicly traded food company. This allows them to continue trying to work with companies even if the companies are not interested. With school districts (unless there’s a grassroots campaign), if the director of dining doesn’t want to engage in dialogue, it’s hard to continue pursuing change in that district. However, there are so many schools out there that even if 98% don’t respond to HSUS’s calls or emails, there are enough districts who engage to create massive change. And then those victories help encourage other districts to engage.
A similarity is that both kinds of efforts rely on building relationships with companies and institutions in order to create sustainable change for animals. They try not to have one-offs that result in a victory without any kind of relationship. Instead, they want companies and institutions to like and trust them and to believe that working with HSUS in the long term is the right thing for them to do.
Range of successes or failures with HSUS’s tactics
Josh can’t think of a company that has implemented a policy they worked on with HSUS and then later discontinued that policy and returned to the prior practices.
Corporate executives are usually very busy with other things and often not aware of the details of farming practices until HSUS brings them to their attention. This makes confinement practices a good first issue to discuss, because they are easy to grasp in a limited amount of time. It’s not too difficult to convince companies that moving away from those practices is the right thing to do, but figuring out how to do it can be harder. On the gestation crate front, this hasn’t been as hard, but with cage-free eggs there are cost issues that need motivation and creativity to surmount. Once HSUS has a relationship with a company, it is easier to bring up other issues; for instance Compass Group now has policies about cage-free eggs, gestation crates, and encouraging meat reduction. This fits in with some studies that have shown people are more likely to take a large step if they’ve first taken a smaller step. (This is the Foot in the Door model discussed in Change of Heart.) It helps to have a test case that shows companies that they can trust HSUS and HSUS understands business models, so that they can continue to work together on other issues.
The vast majority of the victories HSUS has gotten in corporate outreach have been the results of friendly negotiation with executives, shareholder resolutions, and working with investors. Josh states there were only 4 larger campaigns in the past 10 years. On the gestation crate front, they haven’t had to launch public campaigns against any company. They have more difficulties with cage-free eggs, which have generally predictable cost issues.
Skills and resources necessary to undertake corporate outreach successfully
The two most important skills for someone working on corporate outreach are persistence and good social skills. Companies don’t come to activists; activists have to go to them, and often have to send reminders and reach out persistently. Once executives are ready to meet, activists often have only one meeting in person or over the phone to start a relationship. It’s important to be able to represent animals in a kind, professional, and warm manner, and to be the type of people that companies want to work with.
It’s important for activists to be able to speak from an organization with some reputation behind it. An individual on their own might be able to cause change, but it’s helpful to be able to say, “I’m reaching out on behalf of the HSUS,” or on behalf of another organization. Animal protection organizations can carry more weight than an individual consumer who is asking to meet with executives. It is also helpful to buy stock in corporations you might work with; HSUS holds stock in all the major publicly traded food corporations. Sometimes they don’t need it and only go to stockholder meetings to thank the executives, but in some cases they use it to file shareholder resolutions or use the fact that they could do so for leverage. This gives them enough power to propel a deeper dialogue than might otherwise take place; in most cases they need about $3,000 worth of stock to use it this way.
Particularly effective organizations
Some organizations that Josh thinks are doing really good work for farmed animals are The Humane League, Mercy For Animals, Vegan Outreach, Compassion over Killing, Farm Forward, and Compassion in World Farming.
Farm Forward is an organization focused on poultry, including chickens and turkeys. They’re trying to change the genetics within the broiler industry to create broiler strains that don’t have the inherent suffering that the standard broiler chicken has. They’re creating a documentary now, Eating Animals, backed by Natalie Portman.
Recommendations for further conversations
David Coman-Hidy would have an interesting and different perspective on corporate outreach, because The Humane League’s methods are different.