Corporate social responsibility is a hot topic. It is no coincidence that more and more companies are proud to be ‘responsible’, ‘climate-neutral’, and ‘green’. Not everyone, however, is convinced of the accuracy of these types of claims. For example, Varkens in Nood, a pig-welfare organisation in the Netherlands, submitted complaints to the Advertising Code Committee against two Dutch banks, ING and ABN AMRO. This issue: both ING and ABN AMRO claim to comply with the ‘Five Freedoms for animals’. According to these Five Freedoms, animals must be spared (1) hunger and thirst, (2) discomfort, (3) pain, wounds, or illnesses, (4) restriction of their natural behaviour, and (5) fear and chronic stress. These freedoms are also codified in the Dutch Animals Act. According to Varkens in Nood, ING and ABN AMRO create the impression that they only finance companies that respect the Five Freedoms, while both banks finance companies that engage in the prevalent practice of intensive factory farming.

The complaint against ING was sustained, the complaint against ABN AMRO was dismissed. The formulation of the communications proved decisive. On its website, under the headline ‘ING publishes animal welfare policy’, ING stated that it requires its customers to prove that their treatment of animals complies with the Five Freedoms. ING also asserted that its customers’ compliance with the Five Freedoms is ensured because ING requires its customers to comply with statutory and regulatory law, including the Five Freedoms laid down in the Animals Act. The RCC disagreed. ING also presented a more stringent control policy than they actually applied. In its Animal Welfare Statement, ABN AMRO states: ‘ABN AMRO expects its business relations to acknowledge the rights of animals’, and then recites the Five Freedoms. ABN AMRO demonstrated that it makes efforts to ensure that its business relations acknowledge the Five Freedoms. And there is nothing in the communication that asserts or suggests that its business relations must comply with the Five Freedoms.

The moral of the story: animal welfare is rightfully a hot issue, but don’t trot out animal welfare claims that cannot be fully substantiated.

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