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Accounting for Animal Welfare: Addressing Epistemic Vices During Live Sheep Export Voyages

I deplore cruelty, any ordinary human being would and does. But we have to keep these things in perspective, we have to remember that you are talking about a very valuable economic asset (Australian Prime Minister, J. Howard, speaking of the Live Sheep Export industry, 2003, cited by Wright & Muzzati, 2007; emphasis added).


In this research, we develop a reporting framework based on an ethical account of the Australian live sheep export (LSE) industry’s current operations. We demonstrate that LSE operates within a legitimacy vacuum constituted by a repeated cycle of events that we characterize as scandal-response-obduracy with a constant factor being animal cruelty on an industrial scale. The lack of legitimacy is facilitated by an obdurate regulatory context, an absence of consumer awareness of industry practices, jurisdictional impediments to enforcement of animal cruelty laws and foundational epistemic vices upon which the industry calculates an unethical cost benefit analysis of current practice. While legitimacy theory would expect demise of the LSE industry, its prolonged continuation is more than a curiosity. It presents an opportunity to understand how focus on vice epistemics and reporting of animal welfare may contribute to emancipatory change in the form of improved animal welfare in agricultural industries.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Source: Rule (2018)


  1. 1.

    This study limits itself to LSEV cruelty. However, the methods of post-LSEV slaughter have long been labeled as manifestly cruel (SSCAW 1985). Corollaries to cruelty such as pollution of oceans from concentrated volumes of sheep urine, feces and carcasses is another aspect of the industry not covered in this research.

  2. 2.

    ‘Agents’ refers to human actors in the LSE industry as identified in Table 2; we take a broad conceptualization in that animal protectors are also treated as being LSE agents, notwithstanding the fact that they oppose LSE.

  3. 3.

    SEA mostly concerns accounting for triple bottom line (TBL) environmental, social and economic impacts, but there are some applications to animal welfare. The global sustainability reporting standards (GRI) do not mandate animal welfare disclosures, however, the GRI’s G4 Sector Disclosures (all of which are currently being replaced) for the Food Processing industry did identify specific information regarding animal welfare in transport (GRI 2014).

  4. 4.

    At least the CSR disclosure literature not drawn from mainstream elite journals (Cho et al., 2015); refer Patten (2019) for a demonstration of the dichotomized nature of literature in certain journals compared to others.

  5. 5.

    For an exception that calls for attention to this, refer Bebbington et al (2020) regarding the seafood sector where operational impacts occur outside jurisdictions of the companies’ headquarters.

  6. 6.

    A famous satirical demonstration of how business and regulators may attempt to portray predictable events as ‘unforeseen accidents’ is provided by Clarke and Dawe (2010a) with reference to the 1991 Kirki oil spill in Western Australia. In a similar vein Clarke and Dawe (2010b) satirize BP efforts to manage perceptions of the Gulf of Mexico oil drilling disaster as an ‘accident’.

  7. 7.

    Indicative is the substantial licensing and concession granting infrastructure in international gambling (refer Leung and Snell 2021).

  8. 8.

    The term ‘ethical accounting’ can also be used to describe an innate human tendency to maintain a type of ‘balance sheet’ impression of one’s own assessment of moral ‘rights and wrongs’ to arrive at their personal moral identity (Kim et al., 2021). This study does not adopt such an interpretation.

  9. 9.

    Refer Battaly (2014) for a discussion of the implications and forms of a blameworthy psychology.

  10. 10.

    DAWR (2019) foreshadowed telemetric equipment on-board as an export license condition.

  11. 11.

    Increased sales price (revenue) &/or decreased farm gate price (expenses) could preserve exporters’ margins.

  12. 12.

    Epistemic virtues are not necessarily moral virtues; the former are intellectual and natural (intelligence, open-mindedness), while the latter are more social and voluntary (generosity, benevolence, honesty) (Driver, 2003).

  13. 13.

    Animal protectors would undoubtedly turn their attention to the fate of sheep being slaughtered outside of Australia in circumstances and conditions that are highly contested. Future research will need to address this issue.



Australian Agricultural Health and Quarantine Service


Australian Bureau of Animal Health

ALEC, ‘LiveCorp’:

Australian Livestock Export Corporation Ltd


Australian Meat and Livestock Industry


Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union


Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service


Australian Standards for Export of Livestock


Australian Veterinary Association


Animal Welfare Disclosure


Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry


Department of Agriculture and Water Resources


Department of Agriculture


Department of Primary Industries


Export Supply Chain Assurance System


Independent Reference Group


Industry Government Working Groups


Industry Government Working Group on Live Sheep and Goat Exports


Livestock Export Standards Advisory Committee


Live Sheep Export Voyage


Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (New Zealand)


Meat and Livestock Australia


Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals


Senate Select Committee on Animal Welfare


West Australian Department of Agriculture and Food


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Gratitude is accorded to Sue Foster and Jed Goodfellow for insights of the LSE industry; Eija Vinnari, Wai Fong Chua, Jane Baxter and Adrian Zicari for their insightful comments on prior manuscript drafts; participants at the 2nd Aceh Global Conference on Business, Economics & Sustainable Trends and the 15th International Conference on Business Management, Colombo; two anonymous reviewers and Charles Cho as editor for their collective wisdom providing means by which the article's contribution could be strengthened; Eliza Borrello for her access to ABC Australia reportage; and, Chris Rule for permission to use his scathing artwork revealing the impotency of past LSE industry reviews and their recommendations.

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Christensen, M., Lamberton, G. Accounting for Animal Welfare: Addressing Epistemic Vices During Live Sheep Export Voyages. J Bus Ethics (2021).

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  • Ethical accounting
  • Animal welfare
  • Vice epistemics
  • Mandatory disclosure
  • Legitimacy theory
  • Anthropocene
  • Cruelty