Why Collaborating With the Unlikely Ally Can Be Effective

At Mercy For Animals, our end goal is to create a world where no animals are raised and killed for food.

We believe creating this world requires us to do more than work only with vegans or influence individuals to become vegan. We are broadening our tent and inviting all who envision a brighter future and better food system to join us. That is why collaboration is one of our core values and why we strive to build alliances with those our movement often sees as standing on the “other side” of the fight for animal liberation.

For nearly two decades, Mercy For Animals has used undercover investigations and campaigns to catalyze conversations with corporate executives at major food companies, including Nestlé, Leprino Foods, and Perdue, all of which have led to animal welfare policies that significantly reduce suffering for millions of animals.

Of course, companies won’t always admit that animals are mistreated, and sometimes they refuse to have a genuine dialogue about how to address animal cruelty. Their obstinance won’t stop us from calling out what is wrong and shining a light on the darkness within animal agriculture through our undercover investigations and campaigns. Last year, for example, we launched a major pressure campaign against McDonald’s, and our investigations into the commercial fishing industry helped pass a California law to ban cruel driftnets.
Yet as we’ve moved forward, we’ve found that we sometimes make quicker and more meaningful progress for animals by working openly, amicably, and proactively with some companies. And some companies are indeed willing to find common ground and join us in building a more compassionate food system.

One recent example of such a collaboration is our president’s decision to join Ben & Jerry’s Dairy Advisory Council. The objective in taking on this role is to help fulfill our mission, which means reducing the suffering of cows in Ben & Jerry’s supply chain while constructing a path for the company to move further into the plant-based space in earnest. This does not mean we endorse dairy. We will continue to campaign against and investigate this industry and its inherent cruelties.

While staying true to our principles, we say yes to opportunities like these and join the conversation. We are the only animal rights perspective on the Ben & Jerry’s council, and we have gained the company’s trust only because we’re willing to work with them and meet them where they are, while always encouraging them to do more. This is how we change the industry from the inside out.

Whatever the catalyst for conversation might be, other social justice movements have taught us that getting to know “the opposition” and finding common ground are integral to effecting real and lasting change. A quick tour of history reveals the transformative work of the Civil Rights and Indian independence movements, which found that negotiating and working with the opposition, when possible, were important tools in a winning strategy. But like the leaders of these movements, we are not afraid of running fierce campaigns against our opposition when negotiations stall.

Increasingly, we also recognize the power of joining forces with those who, like animals, are victims of the food system we seek to reform. As it turns out, factory farming’s greatest flaw is one we can use in our fight to overcome it. Its greatest downfall is that it harms so many—not only animals but the environment, workers, communities, and our health.

That’s why when we run a campaign like ChickieLeaks, which aims to “give a voice to those who’ve suffered in the chicken industry,” both animals and humans, we know that we can not only stand up for animals while working with farmers but increase the pressure to transform the system for both by doing so.

Through relationships we have already built, we know many contract farmers and processing plant workers are deeply unhappy with how big meat companies treat them. They have many harrowing stories to tell. Collaborating with them presents a powerful opportunity: If we can gain the support of the very people who raise animals for food, we can work with them to reduce suffering inside their farms—and we might even be able to encourage them to shift their careers away from animal exploitation. Additionally, these stories of unlikely allyships often garner significant media attention, shining an even brighter spotlight on animal cruelty.

Credit: Compassion in World Farming USA

We understand that working with farmers may be uncomfortable. But we must push through this discomfort if doing so means amplifying their voices and persuading major industry players to reduce suffering for the animals in these farmers’ care.

And we remember this too: Animals don’t care who we are, whose hand we shake, or who joins our conversation. They just want to be out of their cages, to walk outside, to breathe fresh air, to be free from exploitation. We will innovate, push forward, and move beyond our comfort zone to make this a reality for them—whether through hard-hitting campaigns, collaboration with farmers, negotiations with food companies, or groundbreaking investigations.

Gandhi said, “The goal is not to bring our enemies to their knees, but to their senses.” Our work with farmers and food companies is only one piece of a carefully constructed strategic plan. Like all farmed animal advocates, we want to see the end of animal agriculture. But we believe that we need to bring everyone along with us, including those who don’t currently share our views, to create a more compassionate, just food system and a world where all living beings are respected, protected, and free to pursue their own interests.
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