Veganism, a term coined in 1944 by Vegan Society co-founder Donald Watson, can be traced back over 2,000 years. The definition of veganism, according to the Vegan Society, is "a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as is possible and practicable – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals."
They go on to explain: "one thing all vegans have in common is a plant-based diet avoiding all animal foods such as meat (including fish, shellfish and insects), dairy, eggs and honey – as well as avoiding animal-derived materials, products tested on animals and places that use animals for entertainment". People can be vegan for a variety of reasons, the most common being ethical (ie. for the animals), environmental, or for the health benefits it can bring.
Whilst veganism has existed in the UK for many years, it gained legal protection in a landmark employment tribunal in 2020 – Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports, where it was established that ethical veganism is a philosophical belief, and therefore a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. This act legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in society, covering characteristics such as age, disability, race, sex, religion or belief – the latter being where ethical veganism is represented. A recent study has shown that in the workplace, almost 20% of vegans feel subject to bullying and harassment, and around 35% feel subject to discrimination. Most don’t feel comfortable raising these incidents. These figures are why it’s so important for veganism to be included in the diversity & inclusion and faith & belief agendas.
Following the ruling giving ethical vegans more protection, three vegan diversity and inclusion representatives realised the need for a formal vegan network in the civil service. After a lengthy discussion on the best vegan chocolate on the market, the Department for Work and Pensions Vegan Network was created. After only a few months of existence, membership numbers grew to a few hundred and the network was invited to join the Faith and Belief Network in the department. As the founding team moved across departments in the civil service, a vegan network was set up in the Department for Education, which also quickly grew in popularity. Recognising like-minded allies across multiple departments, a cross-government network was set up to represent all vegan civil servants.
The setting up and formalisation of this network was done in a community-centric way, with vegan stakeholders from all over government being invited to input their ideas to make the network what it is today. Together, we decided on the following aims: "We aim to promote understanding, acceptance, and inclusion of veganism as a protected characteristic, to reduce exclusion, isolation, and marginalisation of vegans by civil service policies, events, campaigns, and celebrations, as well as other work-related practices in the civil service. We aim to encourage and support colleagues to make a change towards a plant-based diet and a vegan lifestyle by being a network open to all."
"A recent study has shown that in the workplace, almost 20% of vegans feel subject to bullying and harassment, and around 35% feel subject to discrimination. That's why it’s important for veganism to be included in the diversity & inclusion and faith & belief agendas"
The cross-government network assists other departments in setting up their own networks, supporting them with advice, event promotion, and sharing lessons learnt. We have helped set up networks in the Home Office, Scottish and Welsh Governments, HM Revenue ans Customs, and Ministry of Justice, with others forming in the Department for Digital, Cultural, Media and Sport and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. All vegan networks are open to all civil servants – you do not have to be vegan to join in on the fun! The networks bring a sense of connection to others, and is a place to share stories, recipes, and advice. The Civil Service Network officially launched on 11 October, and our senior sponsor Neil McIvor shared his story. The following comments made evident how needed a Vegan Network is:
- "Really uplifting that there are so many people on this call today, makes me dare to feel just a little bit optimistic for the world"
- "So great to be with other vegans at work"
- "Just hearing and reading about others in this call with similar experiences has been so reassuring!"
As a result of our networks, over two-thirds of our members feel more included in the workplace, and we aim to make this 100%.
If you’re interested in joining the Civil Service Vegan Network, please reach out to email@example.com. Joining our mailing list will keep you up to date on our upcoming committee elections and exciting events. To celebrate World Vegan Day today (01/11) we are holding a "Veganism through history" event at 2pm, as well as evening socials around the UK. If you’d like to attend please email Kiera for an invite.
Claudia Hedger is planning chair of the Civil Service Vegan Network and a commercial officer in the Home Office