A landmark ruling finding veganism is a philosophical belief will have a wider impact on the pensions industry, experts have said, as they warned trustees against knee-jerk reactions.
Employment judge Robin Postle found on January 3 that ethical veganism was worthy of protection under the Equality Act 2010.
In a case brought by Jordi Casamitjana, it was claimed that he was unfairly dismissed by the League Against Cruel Sports, an animal welfare charity, for raising concerns about the way the League’s pension scheme was invested – including in companies that experimented on animals.
The tribunal ruling did not conclude whether the claimant had been unfairly dismissed or discriminated against because of his philosophical belief, and there will be a further hearing to decide that based on the facts of the case.
Stuart O’Brien, partner at Sackers, explained: “His employer offered a contract-based pension, which until 2015, auto-enrolled its staff into an ‘ethical’ fund. The employer subsequently changed the default fund and offered an ethical fund only as a ‘self-select’ option for employees.”
Even though Mr Casamitjana was able to choose to invest his own pension in the self-select ethical fund and did so, his concern was that donors to animal protection charities have the right to expect their donations will be invested in a way that is compatible with their beliefs.
He argued it was not sufficient to merely give employees the option to select an ethical fund.
In its defence the League stated on its website: “There are pension funds available that offer more ‘ethical’ choices – but these are generally not available for organisations to offer automatically, because they often have higher financial risk and higher administration charges that fall outside the regulations.”
Experts said this case opened the door for veganism to form part of the pension trustees’ environmental, social and governance considerations, and could have a wider impact on the pensions industry.
Penny Cogher, partner at Irwin Mitchell, said: “Employers will need to take their employees’ views on ethical veganism seriously and ensure that they are not directly or indirectly discriminated against, harassed or victimised for expressing their belief on ethical veganism.”
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