Newcastle University Business School

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Driving large-scale change in farm animal welfare (FAW) practices

FAW is an important social issue, however it is difficult to measure and the lack of formal reporting regulations means that there is no systematic way for companies to communicate and for stakeholders to receive and interpret this information.

The authors evaluate a proposed solution - the Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare (BBFAW) - an annual ranking of global food companies on their FAW reporting.[1] Created with the support of Compassion in World Farming and World Animal Protection, BBFAW is an assessment of FAW management, policy commitment, performance and disclosure, with the aim of driving higher standards of welfare. Our research examines the process of response to BBFAW since its publication in 2013, through an analysis of published reports and case study interviews in leading UK food companies. Our objective was to examine the potential for BBFAW to act in a performative way to effect large scale change and become ‘the’ measure of FAW in the market.

We find evidence that BBFAW is providing information and connecting market participants (scientists, BBFAW creators, the companies and stakeholders including customers, suppliers and shareholders). There is a dynamic repetitive process starting with the recognition of FAW and BBFAW as an important issue, followed by changes to internal narratives and the commitment of resources. Once systems are in place, communication to external stakeholders takes place. Dynamism and repetition are required in order for the measure to evolve and for higher standards of welfare to be achieved. Drawing on our evidence, we propose three drivers for BBFAW to become ‘the’ measure of farm animal welfare: common language (so it forms the market consensus concerning the calculation and communication of FAW information), building networks (between market participants) and expanding markets (standardisation and classification to enable comparisons across firms and over time, creating competition between companies not previously viewed as being in competition with each other).

We conclude that a change to the informal rules or ‘culture’ in a market can change behaviour, even without changing the formal rules (such as regulation and laws). Formal rules provide a baseline but legislation and regulation take time, are costly and they cover limited jurisdictions. They are less flexible and adaptable to any changes in norms or expectations. Obsolescence is possible, meaning a loss of resilience. Overall, changes to informal rules can be an effective means of facilitating change, meaning that formal interference through legislation or regulation is not necessary. Our results provide an insight into the use of ranking metrics to drive the social change agenda in a collaborative way.

[1] See


Source: Improving accountability for farm animal welfare: the performative role of a benchmark device

Josie McLaren Biography

Dr Josie McLaren is a Senior Lecturer in Accounting and Finance and Head of the Accounting and Finance Subject Group at Newcastle University Business School. She has taught modules in financial accounting, management accounting and finance, with her present teaching being in the financial management area.

published on: 1 September 2019