Vegetarian and vegan rights need to be highlighted. The right to practice a vegan outlook ought to be included in state guidelines for education and respected as a work right for employees.
The European Court of Human Rights in relation to the UK and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (ECHR) have announced veganism and vegetarianism as principally valid ethical/political belief systems protected in the European convention on human rights. This shows that Swedish law and regulations need to acquire knowledge and include formulations especially applied to vegetarians and vegans.
Research is currently being carried out at Lancaster University Law School in Great Britain examining the relation between veggie belief systems, unfair treatment and equality laws, how vegetarian and vegans experience their everyday life and working conditions as well as how they are treated overall.
Vegetarian or vegan outlooks and motives mean, practically, the avoidance of all products that have implied violence to animals (vegans) or avoidance of products with meat from animals (lacto-ovo vegetarians). These life styles are motivated by the striving for non-violence, better health, better environment, and better climate or for religious reasons.
The number of vegetarians and vegans in Sweden amounts to ten percent, according to a poll from Demoskop in March 2014. The number of children growing up in veggie families is on the rise; however they still form a stable minority. The situation for veggie children in Sweden need to be attended to.
The discrimination documents in the Swedish laws concerning education, 2010:800 states: “Children and students have the right to feel secure and to be as they are. The have the right to affect their own situation in school by participation and influence, and simultaneously develop democratic skills such as critical thinking and reflection.”
Charter of fundamental rights of the European Union says, chapter three, article 21: “Any discrimination based on any ground such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, languages, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation shall be prohibited.”
In order to ensure the safety of veggie children and students, the above rights as well as the general ethical rules which our democratic society rests upon and which are written into the school law; “liberty and integrity of the individual”, “equal worth of all human beings”, “solidarity between humans” should be applied to their situation.
Today there is a knowledge deficit among people in general, public authorities and politicians concerning relations between veggie belief systems and fair treatment. Especially relevant and urgent is knowledge enhancement for preschool personnel, teachers, school restaurant personnel and fellow students. Children embracing a veggie ethic today risk encountering prejudices and unfair treatment. There is a risk for decreased self-respect and self-esteem.
It is the responsibility of adults in preschools and schools to ensure that this does not happen and that all children can feel secure regardless of belief or ethical conviction. In the case of veggie convictions, this means the right to a veggie diet but also respect of the individual and his/her outlook socially, education wise and in the schools’ equal treatment plans.
School personnel and paediatricians may still think that veggie diets are deficient alternatives for children. This idea can be traced back to old recommendations from the Swedish National Food Administration, however these have been superseded and there are no longer any objections to children eating a well-balanced vegetarian or vegan diet.
We recommend that the referred to public authorities, The Swedish National Agency for Education and the Equality Ombudsman create recommendations in accordance with the Swedish school law, article 21 of EU and ECHR covering veggie students and children from veggie families. The situation for vegan and vegetarian adult employees ought to be underlined in discussions about Swedish work laws and guidelines from a standpoint of the European convention on human rights.
Published in Svenska Dagbladet 29th of March 2015
Helena Pedersen, senior lecturer in pedagogy
Per-Anders Svärd, doctorate candidate in political science
Lisa Gålmark, historian, author