The world of political activism is watching this campaign, because SHAC is doing something that has never been done before.
– Huntingdon Life Sciences
A BRIEF HISTORY OF SHAC
Throughout the late 1990’s, the British animal rights movement had a string of successful campaigns against facilities which bred animals for animal research laboratories. Regal Rabbits, Shamrock Monkeys, Consort Beagles and Hillgrove Cats had closed one after the other as a direct result of pressure campaigning, and activists were looking for a new target for their highly effective campaigning model.
Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) formed in November 1999 following a covert investigation by Channel 4 at Huntingdon Life Sciences. Footage aired on national TV showing law-breaking and extreme violence by staff at the facility. It was the third undercover investigation at Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) out of a total of six carried out by organisations such as PETA, Animal Defenders International and the BUAV.
Horrified by scenes of beagle puppies being punched in the face, and live monkeys being cut open without anaesthesia, the existing Huntingdon Death Sciences protest campaign took on a renewed vigour and evolved into SHAC.
Activists would take on some of the most powerful individuals and corporations in the world. In an attempt to evade the campaign, HLS tried to move their financial support to the perceived safety of the USA. However, SHAC’s message soon spread across the Atlantic to America, where HLS’ third laboratory was located. Over the years that followed, the campaign became a global movement, with activists campaigning for the closure of HLS across six continents on earth.
Whenever a company with business connections to HLS was identified, they became the subject of international action. No matter where they were located in the world, they would be the subject of protests, nonviolent direct action, civil disobedience, vigils, letter writing campaigns, phone calls, emails, and a plethora of other nonviolent protest tactics.
SHAC was unapologetic in their approach and ran hard hitting campaigns with the single aim to close down HLS. The campaign took a microscope to HLS’ business practices and identified everything essential to its day to day operation, and then one by one they removed those pillars.
These companies were paying HLS to test their products on animals. When customers cancelled their contracts with the laboratory, HLS would lose revenue and profits. From Johnson & Johnson who paid for animals to be poisoned to death to test Splenda, to Yamanouchi who wanted beagle puppies legs snapped without anaesthesia, these were the companies who made animal torture a profitable business.
SHAC targeted many of the basic material things that a business requires to stay operational. From the gasses used to kill thousands of animals, to the cage suppliers, to the toilet paper for the staff facilities, without these essential items HLS would at the very least see their costs rise. If a supplier could not be replaced then they could be unable to operate at all. During the campaign, HLS had to build an onsite laundry, crematorium, catering department, and gas pipeline after companies refused to do business with them.
From shareholders to stock exchanges, and bank accounts to lenders, the ability to raise and maintain capital was key to HLS’ stability. The financial world is complex, but it was an area SHAC studied, and their strategic action almost forced the closure of HLS on numerous occasions. In 2001 HLS were hours from closure after losing their banking facilities, they were only able to stay open because the Government provided them a bank account, and when HLS lost their insurance, the Government stepped in again and provided them with insurance.
The SHAC model was simple, if costs were rising from losing suppliers, turnover was suffering from the loss of customers, and there were no opportunities to borrow or raise capital, then HLS would have to close.
Supported by a public mandate, with 3.5 million signatures on a petition calling for the closure of HLS, SHAC was a lawful campaign that mobilised thousands of activists to take part in non-violent protests, civil disobedience and publicity stunts.
While the government continually amended and enacted laws to curtail protest, SHAC took every step to stay within the law. Their newsletter and website were regularly checked and approved by barristers, they took legal observers on their protests, and they liaised with the police to create a “Parameters of Protest” agreement which they asked all campaigners to follow.
With daily protests, run-ins, banner drops, lock-ons, office occupations, and letter writing campaigns which spread across every inhabited continent on the planet, SHAC’s tactics were remarkably successful, and soon became the benchmark of social justice activism.
On May 1st 2007, over thirty SHAC activists were arrested in the UK and Europe as the government attempted to end the campaign for good. Despite this, in 2008, SHAC found HLS’ new financial lenders, Fortress, and they too withdrew their services from HLS.
With the imprisonment of thirteen activists, the SHAC campaign officially ended in August 2014.
Amongst the hundreds of customers and suppliers who deserted HLS during the campaign, some of the key highlights included:
For any other company, in any other industry, this would have forced them to close. For HLS however, the government stepped in to provide banking via the Bank of England. No other company in history has had a bank account with the Bank of England. The government also brokered a new loan for HLS via an American company, Stephens Inc.
No other company in the world would agree to insure them. On the brink of closure, the British government stepped in again and provided insurance through the Department of Trade and Industry, another historical first.
SHAC: Time For Action 1 (2001)
SHAC: Time For Action 2 (2002)
SHAC: Time For Action 3 (2005)
SHAC: Time For Action 4 (2009)
SHAC USA: Strikeback (2002)