Though all large companies have a huge impact on animals, they communicate little sense of responsibility toward them. RSM’s Professor Muel Kaptein and Monique Janssens discovered that 53 per cent of the top 200 of the Fortune Global 500 largest companies do not mention responsibilities toward animals at all on their websites. The researchers say that this is, given that the websites of these companies are very extensive, a good indicator of what they communicate and what is important for them.
Most responsible companies
The companies that show the most responsibility toward animals in their communication are Bayer, Unilever, Nestlé, Royal Bank of Scotland Group, Tesco, and Procter & Gamble. Companies that sell animal-based products or keep animals show more responsibility toward animals than other companies. But there are exceptions. A few companies selling animal-based food products seem to totally ignore the public debate about the treatment of animals in the food industry, and show no sign of responsibility.
On the other hand there are companies that show unexpected responsibility. Royal Bank of Scotland, for example, accompanies its pet insurance products with extensive guidelines for consumers on how to take good care of pets. State Farm Insurance puts welfare criteria to company visits to zoos and circuses. United States Postal Service (USPS) refrains from doing business with companies that abuse animals for entertainment.
It strikes researchers Kaptein and Janssens that companies that do acknowledge responsibilities toward animals often express this in relatively unimportant web documents, such as blogs, project descriptions and news items, and not in much more important documents such as codes of conduct, policy documents and annual reports. This is a missed opportunity, according to the researchers. “If you take responsibility for your company’s impact on animals, and choose to communicate about it, why not be very clear about it and include it in your corporate responsibility reports?” says Janssens. “It would make your company more transparent and accountable for animal welfare.”
Lessons for companies
The researchers also think that more companies should acknowledge their responsibility to animals. “We recommend that all companies reflect on their responsibilities toward animals,” says Janssens. “This can be done by the assessment technique we developed in our study: the Commitment to Animals score. Communicating what your company stands for, and how it performs, will stimulate everyone within the company to fulfil the corporate responsibilities toward animals, so that the company can be accountable for it. And of course it would make things better for animals too.”
The results of the study are published in the paper The Ethical Responsibility of Companies toward Animals: A Study of the Fortune Global 200 which can be viewed online on the Social Science Research Network.