Do horses and other working animals deserve the kinds of worker protections to which their human counterparts are entitled?
The intriguing possibility is raised by Marine Lercier, a doctoral candidate within the Faculty of Law at the Autonomous University of Barcelona in Spain.
Lercier outlined her arguments in a presentation to a recent symposium in France organised by the Association des Doctorants et Docteurs du Centre de Droit des Affaires (Association of PhD Students and Doctors Business Law Center).
Her presentation, part of a project financed by Spain’s Ministry of Economy and Business on the legal status of animals, has been published in the journal dA.Derecho Animal (Forum of Animal Law Studies).
Lercier argues that animals have a legitimate claim to worker status when their subordination unites them to man.
However, animals invariably fall into the category of a non-human asset in any business or enterprise.
The findings are clear when investigating the place of animals in businesses, she says. “Animal work does not exist.
“No provisions are laid down in the French Labor Code for the protection of animals, although there is no doubt their talents are being used by companies.
“Legally speaking, animals do not belong to the company’s workforce. They are still subject to the property regime, since no special law has been adopted to further regulate their status.
“They are not individuals participating in the activity, although they are recruited because of capacities and skills that make them ‘unique’.”
That which is produced by an animal as a result of its work for man never belongs to it, she says. “Its trade-off is subsistence, or even very often mere survival, in the absence of effective enforcement of animal protection standards.”
Neither labor laws nor civil laws have yet addressed labor relations that unite animals and man.
There are no rules protecting animals at work, despite their participation in multiple human activities.
“The use of horses in sports and tourism generates wealth, while the services they provide save or improve lives.
“While it is easy to ‘work with animals’, it is never explicitly recognized that animals ‘work with people’. Why? Because animals are subject to the legal regime of property.
“The case of an animal as versatile as the horse leads us to believe that, after having inspired numerous animal protection laws, his participation in society through work could be the first to be recognized.”
A horse can be a service provider, transporter, therapist, athlete, or pull a plow. “He has many roles and is recruited according to his personal skills and physical, intellectual or emotional abilities that make him unique.”
Being well treated in the workplace should be considered as a right of the working population, not as a specific human right, Lercier argues.
“Likewise, the protection and monitoring of the health of the sportsperson must be an imperative that goes beyond the species to which the athlete belongs,” she says in reference to sport horses.
She notes that, at both the European and international level, there are no binding standards governing the use of animals in sports.
She notes that France’s first Animal Code, published last year, recognizes animals as living beings endowed with sentience. It outlines an obligation to keep domestic animals in conditions that are consistent with the biological requirements of their species
Welfare, she notes, involves not only physical well-being but also mental well-being.
“Welfare is subjective, as each animal is unique – it is felt by the individual – and varies according to his or her character and personal preferences.
“To go beyond the physical protection of the animal to encompass its emotional state is to make the fundamental difference between the mere survival and the quality of life of the animal.
“It has, therefore, become necessary to protect the physical and psychological integrity of domestic animals used by humans, at last, recognized as living beings endowed with sentience, no longer as machines equipped with mechanical reflexes.
“Welfare, in fact, plays a key role in athletic performance, to such an extent that beyond the ethical and legal foundations of its promotion, sports companies have a financial interest in optimizing it.”
She continues: “Realizing that animals – at least domestic animals – contribute to society in many ways, animal protection can be considered to be a new area of Labor Law in the making.
“To all intents and purposes, the use of animals by humans in their activities is the object of mutual obligations: obedience to orders, conformation to instructions, execution of tasks requested, performance of behavior learned, docility on the part of the animal; good care, food, shelter, health, comfort, attention on the part of humans.
“As society tends to rethink its relationship to animals, a law on the protection, subsistence, health, working time limitation, compulsory rest and retirement of working animals is expected to be adopted.”
Lercier outlined the anti-doping protections for horses operated by the FEI, before turning to the French Sports Code. It lays the foundations for regulating the work of equines, which reads “An equine animal must not be required to perform work for which it is neither fit nor prepared, which could endanger its health and the rider’s safety.”
She argues that legally recognizing animals as a victim of direct and personal injury would be a key step in giving animals the right to obtain compensation and would make it possible to give full meaning to any sanctions against their abusers.
“As the legal status of animals is changing, so too must their legal regime. Subjecting animals to the property regime … without valuing the multitude and richness of the links that unite them to humans through their consideration by Law, undermines their protection and proves incapable of guaranteeing their nascent Right to Welfare …
“Shifting the focus to the reciprocal obligations and mutual interests that unite men and animals in labor relations seems to be the way to go.
“All the necessary ingredients are gathered to give legal personality to working animals, especially in the case of athletes who generate quantifiable benefits in the form of financial allocations.”
Lercier says it is generally assumed that animals do not work, and it is incorrectly presumed that one can theorize labor relations on the one hand, and human-animal relationships on the other, without ever considering Animal Labor or the participation of animals in society.
“The idea that work is an exclusively human social relationship must be challenged.
“Animals do not work only by, with and for humans. Many are the cases of complex division of labor to meet the needs of the community: bees, beavers, termites, ants … So many social facts ignored or deliberately denied by humanity, convinced for the most part of its history that only man was capable of innovating to solve problems.
“When the capacities of certain animals are used by humans, these animals are involved in the production of goods and the creation of wealth, provide useful services, participate in the life of the community to contribute to the overarching goal of any society, which is to improve the overall welfare of all and each of its members.”
Providing animals with the minimum necessary in order that they can generate their output hardly amounts to all-encompassing protection, she says.
Liberating animals does not necessarily mean putting an end to the long-standing relationships that unite domestic animals with humans.
“It is about empowering them to achieve more than mere survival in return for their participation. It is about enabling them to live a life consistent with their animality and in harmony with their individuality.
“It is about treating them as the living beings they are – and not as something – which represents the final and most enduring objective of animal protection laws from the very beginning.
“Man must admit and respect the boundaries of animals …
“Not to be mistreated is a fundamental right. To be well treated at work is a right of the worker, not a right specific to the human being.”
The issue is no longer asking whether it is necessary to be a legal person to be granted protection, but to finally decide under which circumstances an animal may be provided with legal personality – an insurmountable prerequisite for the exercise of rights and in particular for the enjoyment of certain rights at work.
“Ultimately,” she says, “businesses that use animals may well operate as true vectors of animal liberation, not in the radical sense of the word, but in the sense of removing the obstacles that are still stubbornly placed in the way of animals’ personal development, as they provide a service to the community or the individual, enabling them to finally emancipate themselves.
“The main problem will lie in the qualification and quantification of the wealth produced by the participation of animals in society and more particularly in the company, and their fair remuneration and redistribution towards their better protection.”
Lercier, M., Welfare protection of the animal-athlete in the sports company in light of the evolution of the legal regime for animals, dA. Derecho Animal (Forum of Animal Law Studies) 10/1 (2019) – DOI https://doi.org/10.5565/rev/da.404