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How does farm animal welfare fit into corporate social responsibility (CSR)?

What is corporate social responsibility?

The concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) arose in the 1970s in western societies because of changing societal values. The pressing day-to-day social challenges that existed after World War II, e.g. finding a job, finding a house, and amassing material possessions, were beginning to dissipate, and higher-order societal needs were becoming more important. While there is no global consensus on the definition of corporate social responsibility, or how it should be measured, in general terms, CSR refers to the initiatives taken by corporations, or other organisations, to demonstrate they are committed to meeting community expectations [1, 3].

Corporate social responsibility programs align with the three pillars of sustainable development—social, economic, and environmental sustainability. Common initiatives of CSR programs include fair work practices, community support, good environmental practices, and economic values. While fair trade and environmental issues have been the main focus of CSR programs, animal welfare is rapidly becoming a prominent CSR matter as societal concern for farm animal welfare has significantly increased in recent years [4].

How can CSR help drive change in farm animal welfare?

Corporate social responsibility programs have real potential to raise standards of animal welfare. For example, corporations can make commitments that aim to address material issues for each livestock industry. Material issues can relate to housing systems, invasive husbandry procedures, transport and slaughter conditions, breeding practices, use of antibiotics, etc. In addition, specific requirements or minimum standards for livestock production can be included in company protocols (e.g. specific requirements of suppliers to refrain from carrying out painful procedures on farm animals), which underpin the CSR program’s overarching animal welfare policy. These could provide a pathway for continuous improvement, with the bar raised each time the codes are reviewed. The IFC Good Practice Note ‘Improving animal welfare in livestock operations‘ is a great starting point for forming the basis of the continuous improvement pathway.

Because of their purchasing power, corporations have the ability to influence how farm animals are raised and thus support positive changes to improve the welfare of farm animals and the availability of higher welfare products in their supply chains.

What is in it for corporates?

Including animal welfare in CSR programs has several benefits for corporates. Consumers are demanding to know more about how animals raised for food are treated. According to the International Finance Corporation [2], a member of the World Bank Group, businesses that address animal welfare:

  • reduce losses and increase productivity: e.g. improved human-animal relationships and other welfare benefits can reduce costs and lead to increased productivity;
  • access new markets: e.g. market opportunities for food produced to higher welfare standards in certified systems; and/or
  • gain brand reputation: e.g. by becoming the producer of choice for retailers and consumers concerned with animal welfare.

The RSPCA’s Responsible Sourcing information includes guidance for corporates on developing an animal welfare policy and setting procurement goals as well as species-specific information about production processes and how to analyse a business’ supply chain.

What can consumers do?

  • Take a look at the Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare and the Coller FAIRR Protein Producer Index to see which global companies are making commitments that aim to improve animal welfare.
  • Check out our Choose Wisely website to see what restaurants and cafes are serving cage-free eggs.
  • Look for the RSPCA Approved logo on eggs, meat and fish. The logo means products have come from farms where animals are raised with a focus on animal welfare. Find out more about the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme, the RSPCA’s standards and RSPCA Approved products by visiting rspcaapproved.org.au.

By choosing products farmed to higher welfare standards, consumers send a clear message to industry that the welfare of farm animals matters.


[1] Blackman N (2005) Corporate social responsibility & animal welfare–a global perspective. Australian Veterinary Journal 83, 250.

[2] IFC International Finance Corporation (2014). Good Practice Note: Improving Animal Welfare in Livestock Operations.

[3] Isaksson L, Kiessling T, Harvey M (2014) Corporate social responsibility: Why bother? Organizational Dynamics 43:64–72.

[4] Lever J, Evans A (2017). Corporate Social Responsibility and Farm Animal Welfare: Towards Sustainable Development in the Food Industry? Springer, Cham, pp. 205–222.

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Updated on March 21, 2023
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