Why Are the US Corporate Cage-Free Campaigns Succeeding?

Throughout the post, “we” refers to GiveWell and Good Ventures, who work as partners on the Open Philanthropy Project.

Campaigns since early 2015 have secured pledges from over 200 US companies to eliminate battery cages from their supply chains, including from all of the top 25 US grocers and 16 of the top 20 fast food chains. Collectively, the US Department of Agriculture estimates that these pledges will affect ~225M hens, or ~70% of the US non-organic flock (from less than 5% of hens covered by cage-free pledges previously).

These campaigns were primarily funded by $3M in grants from the Open Philanthropy Project, split between four groups: the Humane League, Mercy for Animals, the Humane Society of the United States' Farm Animal Protection Campaign, and Compassion in World Farming USA. (International campaigns using similar tactics, funded by $3.8M in Open Philanthropy Project grants, have secured pledges from corporate giants in Canada, Colombia, Brazil, France, Germany, Mexico, and the UK.) However, it’s worth noting that much or all of the success may have been inevitable once the early pledges (which preceded our funding) were achieved.

Regardless of the role Open Philanthropy played, these campaigns look like a major and unusual success story for rapid, large-scale change brought on by advocacy. Here, I give my subjective and somewhat loose impressions on why these campaigns were so successful. It’s possible that we’ll do a more in-depth look-back at a later date, but for now I wanted to share my thinking for those looking for lessons that might be drawn.

I won’t cover the topic of how different cage-free systems are for birds than cages, which is the subject of an ongoing Open Philanthropy Project investigation. I also won’t cover how we chose to prioritize cage-free campaigns, which is the subject of a prior blog post Initial Grants to Support Corporate Cage-free Reforms. Finally, I won't go into detail about the causal attribution between the pledges and the advocates' work; I feel confident that the former would not have happened without the latter, but making that case is not the focus of this post.

Background Factors

Several factors likely primed companies and the public to be receptive to these campaigns:

Positive Corporate Engagement

Wherever possible, advocates sought to work cooperatively with companies to adopt cage-free policies.

Targeted Corporate Campaigns

Where companies refused to adopt a cage-free policy, or refused to meet with advocates at all, they launched campaigns to push the issue.

A Timeline of Cage-Free Reforms

Below is my impression of the key events in the timeline for cage-free reforms. Because I feel confident that these pledges would not have happened without advocates' work, I use phrases like "secured" and "won," but have not gone into detail on the evidence for this causal link.