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Chimps in the Employment Tribunal?

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Chimps in the Employment Tribunal? Orang-utans in the Board room? A case for Employment Tribunal reform? Rachel Broughton, discusses rights for primates:

Chimpanzees in laboratories and zoos may have the right to claim a breach of the minimum wage and working time regulations; they receive no pay, do not have regular rest breaks and are not given the statutory minimum holidays. It’s a disgrace and employment law is not working for them.

If the chimps are mistreated they may have the right (through a representative of course) to issue a claim in the employment tribunal but how would they afford the issue fee, the remission system is not yet set up for claims from primates?

Well, perhaps we are not quite there yet; however looking at way the law is developing in terms of grappling with the rights of “non-human persons” it’s perhaps this is not such a crazy idea?

An Argentinian court decided that a Sumatran orang-utan called Sandra, should have the legal status of a “non-human person” and thus have comparable rights – BBC news Dec 2014. It was argued by the Association of Professional Lawyers for Animal Rights that Sandra was intelligent and self-aware enough to understand

and be affected by the conditions at the zoo where she was being held captive. Sandra had been born at the zoo in Berlin 30 years ago and for 20 years has lived at a zoo in Buenos Aires. The court granted a writ of habeas corpus to Sandra and it held it was necessary to decide whether Sandra was being detained unlawfully.

Is man unique?

Sounds crazy? Well, when we ask ourselves what makes man so unique that he or she should have rights and protections but a fellow mammal who is also aware, emotionally complex and intelligent does not, the debate is not as straight forward as you may at first think.

There are fascinating philosophical and scientific debates over how we define our humanity and it is not only in Argentina that the courts are entertaining legal arguments over the definition of “non-human persons”. Just over the pond, a Judge in the USA, in April of this year, granted two chimpanzees a petition to argue for a writ of habeas corpus. Although the writ was not granted, the attorneys for the chimps were given the chance to at least argue the case, which they maintain implies that the chimps were “persons” in a legal context, or, at least it was acknowledged by the court, could be.

A set of rights

The European Convention on Human Rights is an international human treaty giving all “people”, a set of rights. The ECHR is divided into articles such as Article 4 which includes the right that no one shall be held in slavery or servitude, Article 3 deals with the Prohibition on torture. The Human Rights Act 1998 made the ECHR part of our UK domestic law and our laws, including employment laws should be read in a way to ensure there are compatible with it.

Children can take cases to a court in England if their rights have been infringed, however, on the questions of morality and ethics, Peter Singer a renown “thinker” for example argues that the normal reasons against killing persons (painlessly) do not apply to infants because a human infant has no inherent value. What makes killing morally wrong (he argues) is not that the entity that is killed is a human being but that such an entity is a person, human or otherwise.

How to be a person…

To be a person an entity must be rational, self- conscious, aware of its own existence over time, able to communicate and so on. Infants, like foetuses do not have such capabilities (until they reach a certain age) and so are not “persons”, he argues, although they are human. If we scoff at this, then consider what is the difference between an early foetus and a baby unaware of its own existence- why is it morally permissible to terminate one but not the other if it involves no distress or pain?

Are we not trying to find a point at which a human being becomes a person? I make no moral argument either way, I only seek to point out the difficulties in the moral distinctions which provide the architecture for our laws.

Peter Singer’s arguments may seem unpalatable but it does give rise to fascinating debates over the rights we afford to what may be human “non-persons” who cannot communicate and are not even aware of their own existence, over the rights we are willing to give to mammals who are self-aware, intelligent and able to communicate, but are not human.

Taking chimps into employment tribunal

Perhaps seeing chimps in the employment tribunal may be a step too far, although it would perhaps provide another interesting argument for reforming the tribunal fee system ; you can’t expect a chimp to pay to issue a claim when he doesn’t have the right to the minimum wage (let alone a living wage).


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