Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Human Rights Group Takes on Animal Rights Group: The anti-vivisection movement in the U.K. is pretty much the British equivalent of the anti-abortion movement here in the U.S., with a small number of extremists prepared to use intimidation and violence to achieve their objectives.

Medical researchers in the U.K. must be prepared to face harassment and death threats if they are to carry out their life-saving work. So must anyone associated with them: there have been campaigns targeting investors, construction companies, and suppliers—DHL and UPS have been targeted because they make deliveries to Huntington Life Sciences, one of the U.K.’s largest research organizations.

So I was interested to read that after years of getting their own way, the animal rights activists will now have to contend with human rights activists who are prepared to take a stand for the research community.

This Guardian article profiles student activists in Oxford who have held counter-demonstrations against the Animal Liberation Front and others, and recently attracted 1,000 people to a rally in support of the research community.

What’s interesting is that the group, which calls itself Pro-Test, appears to have sprung up spontaneously, rather than through the initiative of the industry. In fact, the industry has typically sought to avoid confrontation. Scientists are understandably reluctant to make themselves targets, but they have also been slow to recruit potential allies at the grassroots level.

Says one Pro-Test member interviewed by The Guardian: “Scientists and academic institutions have been too afraid to engage in the debate and, therefore, have allowed activists to set the agenda. Now I feel it is right to draw a line in the sand and say, ‘No more.’ We want to get that debate out in the open and win it based on reason.”

This seems like a rather obvious approach for the industry to take, and the fact that it took so long makes me wonder how many companies underestimate the support that exists for their positions, and how many are failing to mobilize and leverage the energy of ordinary citizens.

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