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December 04, 2007

Taking Stock for Animals

The Humane Society of the United States focuses its work in four major areas: public policy and enforcement of laws, public education (including our extensive youth education programs), hands-on care, and corporate policy reforms. Our work on the corporate policy front is among our most important tasks. In a capitalist economy, the way that corporations behave and conduct their business and what types of products they offer in the marketplace have enormous implications for animals—whether it's a business in the food industry sector, pharmaceuticals, clothing, entertainment, or energy.

If you are active on HSUS campaigns, you've probably written a letter or made a phone call to Wendy's to urge the company to start using cage-free eggs; to Amazon to halt its sale of cockfighting magazines that promote the sale of contraband; to Red Lobster to stop purchasing seafood from Canada, where the mass slaughter of baby seals happens each spring; or to Allergan to stop using LD50 tests on animals in development of its Botox products. We always try the carrot first and try to work cooperatively with companies. But if they stubbornly cling to outmoded or inhumane practices, we are willing to use the stick in defense of animals.

Increasingly, we bring an array of strategies to our corporate relations work. Not long ago, The HSUS board of directors approved using a portion of our assets to purchase stock in companies, so we could use our influence as a shareholder to exert pressure and educate other shareholders and corporate executives. Just recently, The HSUS filed the first two of nearly a dozen planned shareholder proposals focused on corporate practices tied to animal cruelty and suffering.

These shareholder resolutions complement what we are doing through our campaigns, litigation, government affairs, economics, investigations and other programmatic work, and they draw on the strengths of our capable professional staff, who carry out the needed business, scientific and legal analysis needed to make them viable.

At one shareholder meeting HSUS staff attended, a board member of one of the companies we targeted admonished the senior official responsible for animal welfare issues and said the issue we had identified was an important corporate concern and needed more attention. In another instance, our calls and letters went unanswered until word got out about our plans to engage in shareholder advocacy. Right away, we received a call and got a meeting with the vice president responsible for this company’s purchasing policies on eggs, pork, veal and milk. And in a third case, within 24 hours of receiving our resolution, a company representative called us to schedule a teleconference.

I’m personally excited about the potential for positive change that comes with every one of our shareholder resolutions. You'll be hearing more about the application of this strategy in the future.

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