Violence against animals is horrific wherever it occurs. Yet much of it is normalized and hidden from public view on factory farms, in slaughterhouses, in the wildlife trade, in cosmetics testing facilities. Most animals are harmed in the pursuit of money.
There are significant differences between a large agricultural corporation seeking profit and someone with few options having to take a job working for that corporation, however. Close to home and around the world, working class and poor people are really struggling. In countries like Canada, unemployment and underemployment persist. We have been told that corporate tax cuts would create jobs, yet many of the few positions now available provide only poverty wages and part-time hours. Globally, over two billion people try to live on less than two dollars a day. In much of the global south, people face a "choice" between poverty wages in factories, or poverty income on farms. People are not poor by choice, and they should not be mocked or demonized.
Animals play different roles in the lives of the poor. Homeless and precariously-housed people are conscientious guardians of their cherished (and reciprocating) animals, for example. In some of the world's poorest communities, women see their donkeys as invaluable, and are keen to better protect the animals in return. Widespread and unrelenting poverty means some people must take undesirable paths, however. Too many for-profit industries and greedy individuals exploit people's desperation, trapping them into dangerous, poorly paying jobs -- and animals into worse.
People need income, and if given real choices, most would opt to earn a living by helping others rather than by harming them. Given this context, there is clear and pressing need to cultivate new, positive areas of work, to expand and create what I call humane jobs. Humane jobs afford people with good working conditions, doing jobs that help animals, or that help both people and animals. Humane jobs feed people's stomachs and their sense of pride.
Some instructive examples already exist. For example, in central Africa, ape conservation programs employ local people, including former poachers, offering them stable jobs protecting rather than hunting animals. Across Europe, green care programs help farms become spaces of education, therapy, and child care, creating new jobs and diversifying rural income sources. The possibilities for humane jobs are many and include educational, health care, social service, agricultural, tourism, and protection fields. The promotion of humane jobs will not solve all human-animal challenges, but will help foster interspecies solidarity and a more sustainable and just economy.
There are also ongoing conversations about the potential for a national or even a global basic income guarantee to ensure all people have a minimum level of material security. If everyone had enough to meet their basic needs, they would have greater freedom to make real choices about where they work. Such a policy would not mean employers could avoid paying people fairly; a basic income is intended to work in concert with living wages and good, green, and humane jobs.
Animal advocates call for an end to industries that harm animals, and some are already in decline. People work in all of these industries. Animal lovers should acknowledge that people need jobs and thus also support progressive income-generating alternatives. Combating poverty and creating humane jobs not only benefit people, but are essential to building a better future for animals.