When Activists Attack: Companies Square off against Animal Rights Groups

By Bohacik, Ashley | Risk Management, March 2008 | Go to article overview

When Activists Attack: Companies Square off against Animal Rights Groups


Bohacik, Ashley, Risk Management


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In December 2006, the New York Stock Exchange announced that it would begin listing medical research company Life Sciences Research on its electronic trading platform, Arca. This was great news for the New Jersey research facility, as investors and traders would now be able buy and sell shares more easily. The bad news, however, came in the following day's headlines.

Life Sciences Research, Inc., is the parent of Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), a scientific research company that periodically uses animal testing to develop cures for diseases such as cancer and AIDS. Animal rights activists have long protested HLS' operations--while also targeting connected individuals and associated companies--with some even invoking illegal methods including intimidation, physical violence, vandalism and identity theft. In response to the NYSE listing, however, two activist groups, Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) and Win Animal Rights (WAR) shifted the brunt of their protest activities to the stock exchange itself and vowed to continue campaigning until the listing was reconsidered.

This was not the first time the NYSE had come under fire on this matter. When it had considered listing Life Sciences Research in 2005, animal rights activists launched numerous protests and harassed NYSE employees, trading groups and other financial services providers. Under such activist pressure, the stock exchange removed the listing minutes before the opening bell on September 7, 2005.

Observers criticized the decision, and in April 2006 a full-page ad was published in the New York Times declaring that the NYSE was yielding to what were essentially terrorist threats.

Since then, SHAC has launched "Operation Fight Back," a renewed campaign against the NYSE. Since January 2007, activists have begun organizing protest activities against the NYSE and its European counterpart Euronext, as well as the exchange's shareholders, specialists and members. WAR, a radical animal rights group based in New York, also launched its own "Operation Helter Skelter" campaign against the NYSE in January 2007. The current campaigns have led to organized protests against the financial industry in both the United States and in various countries in Europe, primarily the United Kingdom. Activists have also carried out demonstrations against companies in other industries, specifically those that hold shares of Life Sciences Research.

Violent Tactics

While the current campaigns by SHAC and WAR against the NYSE have consisted primarily of protests (both at offices and the homes of company executives), in the past some animal rights protesters have conducted illegal and harassment-type activities. And in limited instances, such methods have already been used in the campaign against HLS.

In May 2007, for example, members of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) allegedly vandalized the property of a financial advisor of a targeted company by spray-painting messages on his home and vehicle. And as part of the 2005 campaign against the NYSE, SHAC members posted the contact information of hundreds of NYSE employees on its website, and ALF claimed responsibility for acts of vandalism at two New York yacht clubs used by employees of a firm that intended to trade shares of Life Sciences Research. SHAC activists have also posted personal information of employees (including social security numbers and bank information) as well as instructions for bypassing security at targeted firms' offices on SHAC's website. Additionally, activists have used smoke and pipe bombs to further harass and intimidate companies connected to HLS.

In October 2007, activists from ALF claimed responsibility for vandalism and other property damage at the house of a UCLA scientist who conducts nicotine research on animals. Specifically, the activists smashed a window at the house and then inserted a garden hose in an effort to flood the premises.

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