“[Our] social licence to operate – a cornerstone of our industry – is built around our ‘no fear, no pain’ commitment in relation to animals under our management.”
So begins the FAQ page of the ALEC (Australian Livestock Exporters Council) website, quoting the council’s Chairman the ‘Honourable’ Simon Crean.
It seems I’m not the only one to notice the utter untruth of a comment like this. Indeed, this was not lost on the production team of 60 Minutes, who aired the shocking and confronting exposé on the live export industry. I am transfixed as interviewer Liam Bartlett confronts his interviewee Simon Westaway, current CEO of the council, with this statement having just made him watch the shocking footage uncovered by Animals Australia. Mr Westaway sweats and squirms in his chair. I can’t say I feel sorry for him.
And if you need further proof of this bold-faced lie, you’ll find it in the words of the brave young whistleblower, Faisal Ullah. As Liam begins to quote the industry’s motto, Faisal’s response is instantaneous. It’s almost as if the insult of the words is too visceral, too real, to allow him to wait until the interviewer has formed a question.
“That’s ridiculous, I’m telling you. That’s a big lie. You know, the conditions on board, it was like a bomb blast. The conditions were so bad. Even crew fainted... fellow crew fainted in the pen area because of too much heat, too much suffocation... and crew are allowed to go outside, animals are not.”
With this in mind, it’s not surprising that, as I read the statement on the council’s website, two phrases stand out to me.
The first is a word I had used myself in discussion with our friends at Animals Australia. As we spoke late on Friday about their coverage that was due to air on Sunday (the footage you’ve probably now seen thanks to 60 Minutes), I was considering how to approach this article. I mentioned (with just a hint of angry passion in my voice) that this is the moment, this is the time to finally take away this industry’s social license.
“It’s funny that you use the term ‘social license’”, says Tim. “Take another look at the ALEC website and you’ll see that is exactly the phrase Simon Crean is quoted as saying in the same breath as espousing the council’s motto of ‘no fear, no pain’.”
I mean seriously. Come on guys.
So, of course, that brings me to the second phrase that stands out.
‘No fear, no pain’ is a pretty lofty mission statement for any kind of organisation that deals intimately with living beings.
I can imagine walking into an anaesthetist’s office and seeing those words standing against a cringe-worthy inspirational photo background, framed and hung on the wall. In this context, I would indeed still be dubious. “You’re about to knock me out so a surgeon can take my appendix out, and I’m super grateful that you don’t want me to be afraid, but please don’t tell me there won’t be any pain. Do you even know what’s about to happen to me?”
But show me those words in the context of the shocking and disturbing footage of the conditions that Australian animals are forced to endure on Australian ships, and if I weren’t so appalled, I’d probably laugh. I mean, the sheer audacity of it.
So, let’s dig down into these two phrases a little more.
The live export industry motto:
“No fear, no pain”.
I could go on for days about this. But do I need to? You’ve seen the footage. And I’m sure you can imagine the footage that didn’t make the cut for the family-friendly time slot of 60 Minutes (and is now lying on the newsroom floor at channel 9).
Images like this one, which hurts my heart to see:
But don’t worry, you’ll get to see more if you want to. You just need to follow Animals Australia and you’ll see all the sick and disturbing footage you could want to… not that you’d want to.
And that’s okay - you can avert your gaze. Looking away doesn’t mean you’re abandoning these poor creatures; it simply means you’re practicing important self-care. But it doesn’t mean you can pretend it’s not happening. It doesn’t mean you can do nothing about it. That would be the true crime against these animals.
I guess the most important point to make here is that you cannot think for a moment that this was an ‘isolated incident’. It was not.
The industry body will talk about an “extreme heat event”, and “heat management plans”. Sure, it’s a convenient narrative for them, and it almost makes you think that they couldn’t have seen this coming. Until you remember the way Liam Bartlett introduced the footage taken by Faisal… “footage taken on FIVE voyages”.
This was no isolated incident. It is systemic cruelty. So systemic, so pervasive, so ‘normalised’ amongst the crew, that you even have vets working aboard these ships, who let this cruelty happen under their watch. Yes, I mean actual vets. Actual animal doctors. Individuals who surely have a duty of care around the suffering of these animals, yet they choose to be there, being paid a healthy sum by the exporter themselves to turn a blind eye to the suffering they see. (Not to mention that one of the key people on the ALEC Board is a vet).
But when hundreds upon hundreds of animals are in deep pain and fear each day, how does one vet get around a vessel of that size to offer euthanasia to these suffering animals? He doesn't. Instead, he leaves the boat early before all the livestock has even been disembarked and the “deadstock” counted.
So no, this is no isolated incident.
We also should not believe for a moment that it was ‘just this company’; ‘just this exporter’. Live animal export on this scale is an inherently cruel practice. And so it’s not just Emanuel Exports who are actively participating in this cruelty; it’s the whole industry. We better believe that footage on any one of the industry’s ships would look like this.
Why? Because why not? Who’s going to stop them?
Reporting on mortality rates is effectively voluntary - and as we can see, with sheep carcasses tossed overboard at sea, with newborn lambs who were never supposed to be on that ship (the regulations state no pregnant sheep, after all) who are left to be crushed and killed, how could the numbers ever be accurate? In fact, on a voyage in July 2016 by the same exporter, they had “lost track of what sheep had died, because they decomposed so rapidly”.
Let’s also remember that the officials whose job it is to sign off on these shipments, are not out on the boats inspecting the state these animals are being kept in. They are in a back office, ticking and flicking. There is no true accountability.
So let’s not for a moment pretend that people who can ship a live boat of animals off to be slaughtered would be above the act of fudging the paperwork. The fact is, the regulations are concocted in a way that makes reporting voluntary.
And while we’re on that note, how on earth have we become so desensitised to the suffering and death of these animals, that a “reportable incident” on a voyage like this only occurs if more than 1,280 of them perish on the way? That’s over a thousand completely senseless, unnecessary, pointless deaths; whose suffering never counts.
And as for the the conditions on these boats across all the exporters… well let’s be honest: the better the conditions, the more it costs the company, right? (And you can do the reverse maths on that one).
It’s as simple as this:
There is no such thing as a FEARLESS or PAINLESS experience for an animal being shipped across a rough ocean with thousands of other animals in a dark, dirty, hot, dry, metal container.
EVERY SINGLE ANIMAL SUFFERS.
That is the reality of this industry.
But who has the power to stop it? I’m glad you asked.
Which brings me to the other phrase...
While the concept of social license has been around a long time, it’s hard to find a single ‘point of common truth’ definition.
The definition that most resonates with me is that social license to operate is “society’s moral and political approval, sufficiently widespread and stable to allow legal approvals to proceed and to assure ongoing community support”.
Will Allen at Learning for Sustainability expands on this with the notion that social license is about the ‘social permission’ that companies need (alongside regulatory permission) to conduct their business. He says that it is granted based on the ways companies manage themselves in their wider environment - their ethics, labour practices, sustainability, etc. So it stands to reason these same things can take it away.
Just a few of years ago The Guardian published an article on social license where they challenged us to think more deeply about “how business relates to the pre-existing social contracts that bind societies and legitimise those that represent us.” The author goes on to say “social license can never be self-awarded, it requires that an activity enjoys sufficient trust and legitimacy, and has the consent of those affected.”
So, to paraphrase (okay, to misquote) the bible,
“the people giveth and the people taketh away”.
For too long, society at large has granted this social license to the live export industry.
We’ve had a few marches, we’ve had a lot of Facebook activity, and we’ve had the brilliant and tireless work of people like our friends at Animals Australia who are fighting to change this industry for good.
But this is too big a job for a small group of incredibly passionate advocates to pull off alone.
Removing social license requires scale. It requires strategy. It requires a battle-plan. One which involves attacking the industry from multiple fronts.
And the reality is that clicktivism alone is not enough. Not any more.
We need to dismantle the structures that condone and legitimise this kind of cruelty.
To genuinely remove the social license of this industry as a whole, we need to hit them where it hurts - in their back pocket. We know that money talks when money walks.
As individuals, our impact might not seem great, but as a collective we are powerful. We are all investors, and that gives each of us financial power. Most of us don’t even realise it. Allow me to elaborate.
For every dollar that’s sitting in our retirement savings with our ‘whoever-my-first-job-signed-me-up-to’ super fund, that’s a dollar that’s invested in the stock market.
That’s a dollar that is almost certainly exposed to cruel and inhumane practices occurring across the board in industries that have not yet heard the wake up call. Industries that are yet to understand the truth: that ordinary people are not comfortable with cruelty in any form.
It’s a dollar that is almost certainly invested in the cruel live animal export industry.
Almost all Australian super funds are investing in the cruel live animal export industry. These super funds are investing member’s money across the whole live animal export supply chain, including owning the essential infrastructure that allows live animal export to take place.
So that’s a dollar that’s almost certainly helping to fund the operations of listed Australian companies like:
Not to mention the many industry super funds who also invest their members funds in the live animal export trade through direct ownership of infrastructure like ports that facilitate live animal export.
That is your hard earned money, funding these listed companies who are knee deep in the live animal export trade.
But it’s super, right? So how big an impact can it really make? This kind of investment might sound obscure or trivial, but collectively, Australians have more than $2.19 Trillion in superannuation. The average balanced fund invests 25% of this in Australian shares. That’s more than half a trillion dollars that’s helping to fund the live animal export trade.
So do we, as ordinary working Australians, have power in this scenario? Of course we do.
If OUR money walks, OUR money will talk.
And the more people who walk their money out the door of funds who invest in and legitimise all sorts of animal cruelty, like this live animal export trade, the louder and louder our collective voices will become.
And when our voices - the voices we raise for those who have none - have risen to a roar, they will have no choice but to listen to us.
The industry will have no legitimacy to carry on these harmful and “bullshit” practices. In fact, the industry will have no legitimacy to operate at all. And government will see this. They will see that ordinary people will not stand to be complicit in this type of systematic, sick, and utterly unnecessary cruelty.
And so, eventually, regulations will change.
An industry with no social license and no investors, will be forced to change. The financial power of everyday Australians has the ability to dismantle an entire industry, forcing government to turn around and listen.
Thankfully, there is a path to change, and if you’re reading this on our website, you’ve probably got an inkling.
You can start to make your voice heard. Right here, right now, in just 2 minutes.
By switching to Cruelty Free Super, you can take your retirement savings out of the hands of the biggest live exporters. You have the opportunity to make big change, simply by redirecting your financial power.
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