Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare

The Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare (UDAW) is a proposed inter-governmental agreement to recognise that animals are sentient, to prevent cruelty and reduce suffering, and to promote standards on the welfare of animals such as farm animals, companion animals, animals in scientific research, draught animals, wildlife animals and animals in recreation.

Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare (UDAW)

It is proposed that a UDAW be adopted by the United Nations. If endorsed by the UN (as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was) the UDAW would be a non-binding set of principles that acknowledges the importance of the sentience of animals and human responsibilities towards them. The principles were designed to encourage and enable national governments to introduce and improve animal protection legislation and initiatives.

It has been argued that a UDAW is consistent with, and could help secure the achievement of, the UN Millennium Development Goals.

This should not be confused with the Universal Declaration of Animal Rights (UDAR).


The UDAW was conceived by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), which now acts as its Secretariat. It is supported by four main partners: the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Compassion in World Farming, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

In 2003, the Manila Conference on Animal Welfare was attended by 19 government delegations with the European Council, United States and Saipan as observers. A foundation text for a UDAW was agreed.

In 2005, the UDAW inter-governmental steering committee was formed and representatives of the governments of Kenya, India, Costa Rica, Czech Republic and the Republic of the Philippines agreed to champion the initiative. They lead a group of governments whose officials have stated support in the following years, including Australia, Cambodia, Fiji, Latvia, Lithuania, New Zealand, Poland, Slovenia, Tanzania, and the UK.

In 2007, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) decided to support a UDAW, as did the Commonwealth Veterinary Association (CVA) and the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE). In August 2008, the national veterinary associations of Chile, New Zealand, the UK, the Philippines, Thailand and Colombia have all given public backing for a UDAW.

In April 2008, Eric Martlew MP put forward an early day motion in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom that “calls upon the Government to give its full and publicly-stated support for this initiative, including active support within the European Union and the United Nations.”

The lack of success in shaping internationally binding charters on animal rights has not been for want of trying. People in modern times have attempted to identify and advance the rights of animals at least since the 18th century. Credit usually goes to Henry Salt (1851–1939) for writing the first book on animal rights, published in 1892 and subsequently. And Salt traces efforts back to John Lawrence (1753–1839), one of the earliest modern writers on animal rights and welfare. Lawrence argued in his 1796 book, A Philosophical and Practical Treatise on Horses and the Moral Duties of Man Towards Brute Creation (T N Longman: London), that we have to care for animals and common law should support this principle in practice.

The 20th century saw a number of international declarations supporting animal rights. Perhaps the most prominent venture was the announcement (The Times, 17 October) in 1978 by the United Nation’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) of the Universal Declaration of Animal Rights. Among the Declaration’s pronouncements were that all animals have the same rights to existence, no animal shall be ill-treated or subject to cruelty, animals shall command the protection of law, and dead animals shall be treated with respect. The Declaration, however, waned and faded away before it could reach significant levels of international agreement.

More recently some of the world’s leading animal welfare organisations have started campaigning for the United Nations to adopt a new declaration. This time the declaration is on the welfare of animals: the Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare.
Why welfare and not rights? Probably because welfare is a softer option than rights and therefore easier for people to accept. Thus it has a better chance of endorsement and of enduring.

The animal organisations behind this new declaration envisage that signatory countries to the document will recognise animals as sentient beings. They hope their declaration will make animal welfare an important global issue, pioneer the way for legally binding international agreements on animal welfare and hasten a better deal for animals worldwide. Their declaration would also underscore the importance of animal welfare as part of the moral development of humanity. So far a number of United Nations member states are acting as a steering group to advance the initiative at the UN.

Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare (PDF)

Animal welfare is a global concern. Animal welfare matters intrinsically to all sentient animals – those able to suffer and feel pleasure. Animal welfare matters to people, including but not limited to people who depend on animals, and caring for animals benefits both people and the environment. It is time for the world to take this responsibility to animals seriously. It is time for a Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare.
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Back a Universal Declaration on Animal WelfareHelp make the Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare a reality

We are calling for a Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare (UDAW) to be backed by the United Nations.
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