Animal Rights terorists pick their targets well - or so they think. Here's the latest:
GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSK’s) UK general counsel has been forced to move out of his home as a result of of threats by controversial animal rights activists — unwel-come news that has understandably sent a shudder down the spines of in-house lawyers at pharmaceutical companies.
The news has spread quickly, with corporate counsel at some of the UK’s largest companies questioning whether they will be next, and whether the safety precautions they take are sufficient.
Of the pharmaceutical companies that Legal Week spoke to, none was willing to give details of the security measures that they have in place. However, each company stressed that it is something that they constantly review in the light of renewed and changing threats to their employees.
Intimidation and violence is, of course, nothing new to those working in the pharmaceutical industry, especially companies that employ research scientists in the UK. Huntingdon Life Sciences’ chief executive, Brian Cass, was famously attacked with a baseball bat. And members of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry’s (ABPI’s) legal affairs committee have also found themselves the subject of unwanted home visits.
The ABPI has campaigned for extra powers to deal with such activities, with its members reporting 27 incidents of damage to property between April and June of this year.
But are the activists now targeting in-house legal departments specifically? Until last year, general counsel who sit on the board of directors were obliged to make their home addresses public, when an amendment to the Companies Act 1985 came into force that allowed directors to apply for confidentiality orders to protect their safety. The new order allowed the director to file a service address instead of their home address.
Since the new law came into force, an estimated 4,500 directors have applied for a confidentiality order, with GSK and Aventis Pharma UK directors among them.
But the law only applies to new directors, meaning that finding out the home address of a general counsel who has sat on the board for several years is not hard.
For corporate counsel who do not sit on the board of directors, a specific threat to the legal department is unlikely unless a company is taking an animal rights activist to court, putting corporate counsel in the spotlight.
In-house lawyers are nonetheless extremely cautious about keeping a low profile if they work in the pharmaceutical industry — and their safety is an issue that many of them shy away from discussing.
A spokesman for GSK declined to give details of its security arrangements, but confirmed that it has had "very senior people" in the company targeted by activists.
It seems to me the AR thugs are playing a dangerous game here. You really don't want to get a bunch of lawyers on your case, and that's especially so if they have a personal and urgent interest in taking your arse down.
I continue to look with interest at how the media are portraying the give-and-take between the Animal Rights extremists and their opponents (business and, increasingly, government). When you read a lot of these reports, you just don't sense a lot of sympathy for the Animal Rights side - not anymore. And the opinion pieces have actually been pretty scathing in their attacks on the thugs. A media pattern is developing, and new public impressions are being formed.
This is a good thing - the AR tactics of violence, coercion and intimidation stand in stark contrast to the moral purity the AR community cloaks itself in - and this contrast virtually begs for closer inspection of the movement as a whole - its leaders, its spokesmen, its agenda, the logic that underlies it and its sources of funds.
What the unanimity in media point of view tells me is that the nature of the debate has changed, quite dramatically, to the disadvantage of the Animal Rights extremists. It seems to me that the debate has shifted from its focus on the lofty goals and motives of the Animal Rights extremists - which were accepted axiomatically - to their bullying and violent tactics, and the scary success they have enjoyed - which are not sympathetically portrayed.
If my "read" on this is right, it is not good news to the AR community as a whole. It means that they've lost control of their most important weapon - the ability to control public perception by inserting propaganda into a compliant and unquestioning media.
It seems to me that this puts the majority of AR extremists - those not given to violence - in something of an awkward position. Should they keep mum, and by doing so become tacit supporters of the violence, or should they speak out against the violence? I think it would be in their own best interests (which is to say the best interests of the AR movement) to condemn their more aggressive brethern, but I don't think they will.
I think they'll try to slide past the issue by claiming that while they "don't advocate" violence, they do "understand what motivates it." This worked before, but I'm not so sure it will continue to work - not in this changing climate.
Thanks to David S. for the tip.