Im letzten Beitrag unseres studentischen Blogprojekts widmet sich Lina Teichert dem Thema Animal Labour und ob bzw. inwiefern die Anerkennung von arbeitenden Tieren deren Status verbessern könnte. Im Vordergrung ihres Beitrags steht das Argument, dass es einer Konzeption von Animal Labour abseits von Ausbeutung und Kommodifikation bedarf, um das Mensch-Tier-Verhältnis langfristig neu zu denken und allen Tieren ein lebenswertes Leben zu garantieren.
Some Animals Are More Equal Than Farm Animals
Some animals have always been more equal than others in that some are treated as beloved family members, others are made to work for humans, and others again are treated as mere commodities. Animal rights are heavily contested and whereas some animal advocates go as far as arguing to leave animals entirely alone, other people argue they simply would enjoy meat and as long as animals are slaughtered “humanely” there would be nothing wrong with their commodification. On the other hand, vegan (very pricy) lifestyles have become trendy and some kind of social capital, especially in cities. However, a vegan lifestyle is by far nothing everyone could afford. Therefore, the question of animal rights is a political one, not simply a personal choice at the counter.
The debate surrounding animal rights will not be settled by fixating on the “meat question” but by questioning the current human-animal relationship, by politicising it, and, ultimately, by imagining new ways of how to relate to animals. Within animal studies, Donaldson and Kymlicka in Zoopolis (2011) were proposing political rights for animals as well as citizenship for domesticated animals. As innovative as this proposal might be, it is no less controversial. Thus, other works in academia such as Animal Labour (Blattner, Coulter and Kymlicka 2020) discuss how the recognition of animal labour as actual work might have a transformative effect on animal rights and animals’ wellbeing, and how it might eventually be a starting point for animals’ political rights. In this context, Volkmann is asking in the current issue of Merkur (May 2022) “do animals work?” and if so, do animals have a right to a pension? Both questions may be easily answered with a “yes” and not appear all that controversial anymore when using the example of police dogs, as the article does. After all, dogs are more equal than cows.
Critically rethinking the human-animal relationship would make it necessary, though, to question not only how we treat beloved pets but also how we treat farm animals who are usually treated as mere commodities. Therefore, when discussing animal labour, we do not only need to answer the question of whether animals work, but also what constitutes good work for all animals within capitalism which does not degrade animals to tools and goods for human use and consumption. If the recognition of animal labour is supposed to bear a transformative effect for animals’ wellbeing and political rights, animal husbandry and, thus, cruelty against animals should not be conceptualised as labour–otherwise animal labour dwindles to become just one of many “quality seals” and selling points for the meat and dairy industry.
Ultimately, humans need to conceptualise animal labour beyond exploitation and commodification and to come up with new, maybe at first glance even utopian ideas on how to change the human-animal relationship and, eventually, grant all animals a life worth living.
Capitalism, Commodification, Cruelty
As mentioned, the meat and dairy industry is often excused by the argument of “humane slaughter”, but no matter the justifications humans come up with, the commodification of animals looks like this:
T[he] black and white calf, lying in a curled heap on the bottom of the narrow wooden stall stained with blood and feces, is almost dead. The only sign of life is the slow blinking of his one visible and sunken eye. … [H]e is fed milk replacers, including cattle blood, so that humans can have the milk from his mother that was really meant for him. … He has been beaten, kicked, and had his head shoved so far down into the pail of milk substitute he almost drowned. … He is so weak and crippled that he is hardly able to move in the small crate. His diet has been devised deliberately to make him sickly and anemic, barely able to walk, and so he will be electrically prodded and beaten out of his crate, only to be put on another truck for the trip to the slaughterhouse. (Gigliotti 2017, 189)
This kind of cruelty is not an exception, but the rule within the meat and dairy industry. The commodification of animals within capitalism not only worsened animals’ living conditions but also shortened their lives drastically. The industrialisation and mechanisation of animal husbandry created tools for the separation of the natural rhythms of the animals from human time and, thus, made not only husbandry but also animals’ bodies more profitable. Furthermore, even though most states have animal protection laws in place to prevent cruelty against animals, animals within agriculture are usually exempt from any legal protection (Björck 2014, 196; Eisen 2020, 143).
In meat consumption, animals are rendered invisible, so much so that Adams (2015, 20–21) calls the animal the “absent referent” from meat. Through the process of butchering and the subsequent cooking, the dead bodies of animals are transformed into “meat” and “cuisine”, ultimately turning them into a product so that the once living animal is “absent from the act of eating meat”. Ironically, the commodification of animals does not start by butchering them, but by making them more visible in the marketing process of animal products.
The marketing possibilities social media provides provoked a shift regarding the visibility of animals in the food industry on platforms like Facebook and Instagram. The images used on social media for marketing purposes by the dairy industry, for example, usually show “happy cows” on green meadows who are well cared for. The idea that is supposed to be conveyed to consumers is that cows do not mind humans using their milk for their food, since after all cows would not get harmed in the process – whereas in reality, the dairy and meat industries are inextricably connected, nor are cows happily grazing on green meadows (Linné 2014, 19–22). Consumers are presented with almost pre-industrial and romanticised images of nature, what is completely missing from the presented images, and, thus, from peoples’ mind, are the realities of industrialised farming.
Exploitation Disguised as Labour
Despite, or maybe precisely because, animal exploitation within capitalism took a turn for the worse, companies are trying to disguise animal exploitation as labour or even leisure time. In one of many examples described by Adams (2016, 25), a flyer advertising dairy products portrays cows as part-time workers, with health insurance and as a housekeeper, who would only need to work around 30 minutes a day by being milked. The rest of the day they could use as they please, be it for wellness or dating. It does not need to be explained that being penned in does not equate wellness or that artificial insemination does not equate dating. There has, however, been a debate within the literature of animal studies regarding animals and labour on whether animals are subjected to in animal husbandry, even though not only exploitative but cruel, still does equal labour or work.
Against this backdrop, some authors (Coulter 2016, 90; Porcher & Schmitt 2012, 41–42) argue that animals who “work” in “animal production” by either eating to fatten or producing babies for meat consumption or by producing eggs and milk would indeed work. Whereas Porcher (2017, 315) further argues that, in animal husbandry, death would ultimately be a part of “work”, since retirement would not be an option, due to the nature of the “work” – Coulter (2016, 90), expresses doubt whether the case of animals who’s only “work” it is to get fat could indeed be called “work” and asks if it could be considered a limited form of subsistence labour.
Blattner (2020, 93), on the other hand, suggests that recognising “animals as workers does not mean endorsing their exploitation or stripping them of rights to refuse work. Rather, we should recognize animals as exploited workers”. Once recognised as workers, institutions and rights could be established to protect animals as an exploited class. However, in this case, the elephant in the room is not a cow, but women.
Whereas, traditionally, feminist critique defines the sex industry, i.e. prostitution and pornography, as well as surrogacy as exploitation, not work, liberal and post-modernist approaches reframed women’s exploitation as work already decades ago. Women and their rights as a sex class are heavily contested within a current liberal framework which does not seek to abolish exploitation but to disguise it as “agency”. When prostituted women were reframed as “sex workers”, they were not recognised as exploited workers for whom institutions and rights should be established to protect them. On the contrary, legalisation of prostitution as “sex work” seeks as little state involvement as possible and criticises the radical feminist perspective for defining prostituted women as exploited and in need of support. Sex as “work” is not seen as exploitative, rather, from a liberal sex positivity perspective the problems “sex workers” face are only a product of conservative attitudes society needs to overcome, as opposed to male power and sexual violence from a radical feminist perspective.
“Sex work”, be it prostitution or surrogacy, is ultimately no different than cows being forcefully impregnated, made to give birth to calves which are taken from them, as well as milked for the culinary pleasures of others. If “sex work” is just work for female humans, there is no reason why female cows or chickens should be an exception. If it is just societies’ conservative attitudes and the stigma that is hurting “sex workers” and their “agency” and not institutionalised exploitation and oppression, then it is also just the stigma surrounding the meat and dairy industry that is hurting female animals in husbandry. Ironically, as we have seen, the meat and dairy industry already found a way to reframe exploitation to their benefit.
Donovan (1990) and Adams (2015) have long linked feminism, women’s exploitation, and animals’ exploitation, since most animals in husbandry are female and, thus, exploited precisely because they are female. As women deserve better than being told to ‘fuck their way to liberation’, so do animals. If we cannot imagine a world without exploitation and the best we can do is to reframe exploitation as work, even pretending doing this for the benefit of the underprivileged, we just keep centuries-old hierarchies in place – not to improve anyone’s working conditions, but because imagining a world without those hierarchies would, after all, be detrimental to our own benefit. Ultimately, humans cannot have it both ways: either something is exploitation because it is, well, exploitative and most probably cruel, or it is work. If we decide to call exploitation work, we also need to accept all the resulting consequences, but we do not need to call it liberation or even justice.
Historically, animals have always been present in human workplaces and, thus, shaped the human-animal relationship. Nevertheless, work with or for animals is not necessarily work by animals. Police units working with dogs perform work with animals just as people doing vivisections, or scientists observing wild animals in their natural habitats, whereas veterinarians not only work with but also for animals (Coulter 2016, 21–22). In addition, animals are also used by humans in warfare. Thus, work with animals can range from well-paid jobs to underpaid and precarious labour within, e.g., the meat and dairy industry. For the people involved, the human-animal relationship they experience highly depends on their wage and their own treatment at work. Usually, wage and treatment of human workers by their employers coincides with how animals are treated by human workers (Coulter 2016, 27–29).
Even if the commodification of animals as, e.g., in the meat and dairy industry, is called exploitation, not work, there remain cases of animal labour outside husbandry – both good and bad. Animals, who are tasked with typical physical jobs easily identifiable as work would be police, service, and guide dogs as well as horses and other equids pulling carts, wagons, or carriages. Furthermore, horses also participate as athletes in sports, and animals, like dogs, rats, miniature horses, and donkeys, amongst others, are also used in therapeutic services for humans (Coulter 2016, 55–59). The listed examples can only provide a small glimpse into the work animals can perform, not to mention that the kind of work animals perform does not automatically determine if the work in question is good work and, thus, enjoyable and beneficial for the individual animal.
But how could good work for animals look like? Since, as previously mentioned, the working conditions of human workers coincide with the treatment of animals by human workers, Coulter (2020, 29) proposes “humane jobs” for both humans and animals. Humane jobs for humans have, therefore, the potential of indirectly preventing animal suffering. Additionally, humane jobs are “inspired by the promise of interspecies solidarity, and by the need to reconcile and transcend both perceived and real divisions between labour and animal advocacy to help forge more just political economic futures” (Coulter 2020, 29). Moreover, the concept of humane jobs also makes it possible to discuss how humane jobs, i.e. good work, for animals would look like (Coulter 2020, 29–30). Humane jobs for animals must be beneficial for animals and may not result in death. Furthermore, animals have the right not to work and to resist, either entirely or for the time being, and, therefore, must be interested in the work they are performing (Coulter 2020, 35–36).
Furthermore, humane jobs must be beneficial for the individual animal, thus, wild and captive animals should not be made to work. Captive animals in circuses, e.g., should be entitled to retirement in sanctuaries. Ultimately, only species or individual animals who are already domesticated should participate in working relationships with humans (Coulter 2020, 35; Cochrane 2020, 49). Thus, Coulter (2020, 35–36) assumes that dogs, horses, and other small, domesticated animals would, if implemented, work within humane jobs, but furthermore, she suggests that “what are currently called farmed animals could also participate in care work on care farms or in animal-assisted therapy. These are animals who are highly social, including across species lines, and who have shown willingness or even enthusiasm for working with and for us”. This suggestion could, theoretically, provide a way out of the meat and dairy industry for farm animals and grant them a life free from cruelty and violence.
A Zootopian Happy Ending?
The main argument behind the political recognition and regulation of certain activities as work, which animals enjoy doing and which are non-exploitative, is that this could eventually lead to a transformative effect. For that matter, Coulter (2016, 146) argues that “[b]ecoming ‘useful’ can change how individuals and/or species are seen and treated”. Still, animals in husbandry represent 98 % of domesticated and captive animals. Therefore, overlooking them regarding, e.g., the right to retirement, social respect, and protection from violence, thus seeking “these goods for police dogs and carriage horses through a lens that hives off the problems of animal agriculture strikes me as materially under-inclusive” (Eisen 2020, 152). Moreover, as Pedersen (2014, 17, emphasis in original) states, “we are not doing theory in complete isolation from the actual life situation of animals; we also want to develop a knowledge base for theoretically informed action and politics for animals that intervenes in processes of escalating oppression”.
The commodification of animals, even on the level of advertising and marketing on social media platforms, is so deeply rooted in human beliefs about social and political hierarchies that it may seem impossible to invoke change in the human-animal relationship. At least not as long as humans are not willing to regard the human-animal relationship as political which, therefore, can be changed by humans but instead is still regarded as God-given.
This patriarchal logic only asks how humans can profit by exploiting animals, their labour, and their bodies. In a similar way, animal labour, under certain conditions, asks what animals can do for humans in order to earn respect and some basic dignity. As an alternative to the recognition of labour, Eisen (2020, 153, emphasis in original) suggests that, regarding cows, e.g., “recognition and inclusion might be predicated on understanding cows as parents and friends. There is ample evidence that cows care deeply about their friends and offspring, and that the harms of social dislocation and frustration of familial bonds are both devastating and pervasive”, therefore, “rather than thinking about how to convince people to see dairy cows as workers not getting their due … we might build models of empathy and inclusion around recognition of animals as parents and friends whose most valued bonds are severed and denied”.
Under the premise, though, that animal labour can constitute enjoyable and beneficial work for animals without exploitation, humans would also need to build new connections with and models of compassion for animals. Conceptualising good work or humane jobs for animals, ultimately presupposes sympathising with animals and their individual needs. If conceptualised with the question of what humans can do for animals in mind and not the other way around, animal labour has the potential of transforming the human-animal relationship for the better.
Human-animal relationships have perpetually been inconsistent as “some animals were more equal than others” (Ritvo 2007, 120), but farm animals need not be forgotten. As Ritvo (2007, 121) reminds us, when Mary Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792, she was ridiculed “on the grounds that if rights were granted to women, farmyard animals would be next in line”. This historical anecdote obviously shows male contempt for women. Moreover, it shows the unwillingness to recognise women as persons and, therefore, as individuals. As women have been, and depending on the societal context still frequently are, farm animals are denied any individuality regarding their character and needs. Thus, it is time for farm animals to be next in line. Finding new ways of relating with farm animals and including them, as Coulter suggests, e.g., as care workers on care farms, would radically change the human-animal relationship.
In 2016, Disney released their Oscar winning animated movie Zootopia. In Zootopia, mammals, who overcame the antagonism between predators and pray, are living and working together. Suspiciously missing from the utopian picture are humans. Whether animal labour could eventually lead to good lives for all animals depends, ultimately, on humans’ willingness to imagine a different human-animal relationship and to live as mammals alongside other animals. Cows as care workers do not seem to be realistic yet, imagining the idea, though, would be the first step towards a “zootopian” future with humans living and working together with other animals, having overcome their patriarchal hierarchies.
 See Millett (2016), Firestone (1970), and Dworkin (1974). For a non-Western critique see Ueno (1998, 116–118).
 See Rubin (1993).
 The debates surrounding the so-called “sex wars” of the 1970’s and 1980’s are too complex to summarise in their entirety. Still, in short: Whereas feminist theory, as exemplified by Millett, identified a continuation of male sexual power between the ideologies of conservatism and liberalism, thus advocating for radical change, the sex positivity movement, in its attempt to counter conservatism, saw a politically incorrect sexuality, as defined from a conservative perspective, as individual sexual liberation. Furthermore, feminist critique of male sexual power within liberalism was portrayed as being conservative itself and, thus, anti-sex.
 For a thorough analysis of prostitution as exploitation and violence see MacKinnon (2011).
 For an account on animals in colonial warfare see Hevia (2018), for a fictional letter from Cher Ami, a pigeon used by the U.S. army in World War I, to his general see Lindahl (2014).
 For dogs in the police and military forces see Mouret, Porcher & Mainix (2019), for an account on guide dogs see Mouret (2019), and for dogs in conservation work see D’Souza, Hovorka & Niel (2020).
 For an account on the work with horses and the different kinds of relationships humans form with horses on small horse farms see Andersson Cederholm (2014). For an examination of horses’ commitment to work see Porcher & Nicod (2019), and for horses working as draft horses in viticulture see Mulier & Müller (2019).
 In addition, Estebanez, Porcher & Douine (2019) discuss animals as actors.
 Wadiwel (2020, 197), additionally, suggests from a Marxist perspective that not only unnecessary suffering needs to be reduced but also unnecessary labour, since animals have the right not only to a life free of suffering, but also “to enjoy time during their lives that is not dominated by the processes we thrust them into”.
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