Power Play: Humane Society Buys Stock in Major Fast-Food Chain

Can they leverage their shareholder status to improve animal welfare in the supply chain of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.?
If you can't beat ’em, join ’em: The Humane Society of the United States has purchased stock in the parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. in an attempt to improve the treatment of animals in their supply chain. (Photo: Bloomberg/Getty Images)
Jan 9, 2012· 1 MIN READ

Fast-food chains Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. are known for their highly sexualized ads featuring stars like Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton, but the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) wants to introduce a new agenda: humane treatment of animals. The HSUS has embraced the mantra “If you want something done, do it yourself" by purchasing shares in the parent company of the chain in an attempt to force the restaurants to improve animal treatment in their suppliers.

If the HSUS can effectively leverage its power as a shareholder, the potential impact is huge. The stock is in Apollo Global Management, the parent company of CKE Restaurants, which runs the nation’s 3,150-plus Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. outlets.

The HSUS hopes to steer the company toward cage-free eggs and humanely raised pork to increase demand and availability. “Our shareholder advocacy has helped generate numerous improvements in farm animal welfare policies at major companies, which influences other companies to make similar changes,” HSUS food policy director Matthew Prescott tells TakePart.

Consumer demand for ethically raised products is on the rise; an industry analysis by Technomic rated animal welfare as the third-most-important social issue to restaurant patrons, and the Animal Farm Bureau reports that 89 percent of consumers believe retailers are “doing the right thing” by focusing on better animal care. Hardee’s first got the memo in 2007, when they pledged to incorporate cage-free eggs into their products.

Though it was a promising step, Prescott argues that it’s not enough: “CKE Restaurants was one of the first to adopt a policy regarding the extreme confinement of hens and pigs,” he says. “However, the company hasn’t made any animal welfare improvements in many years, while public distain for factory farming has grown stronger.” HSUS hopes that their presence at annual shareholder meetings and leverage with influential decision makers will be the push CKE needs to implement real change.

You might not be able to afford stock, but if you’re worried about what’s in your burger, you can definitely make an impact, Prescott says. Just raise your voice.

“It’s important for consumers to let their concerns about animal welfare be known by calling companies, emailing them, tweeting them, filling out comment cards, and signing petitions,” he says. “It does make a difference.”