Op-Ed: An inhumane investment

Tuesday, November 7, 2017 - 5:45pm

I used to have a lot of pride for attending the University of Michigan, a university I considered ethical, forward-thinking and diligent about acting on the opinions of its students. Lately, however, I have been quite disappointed in my school. I recently learned the University invests in Roark Capital Group, a large private equity firm involved in a horrific and widespread animal welfare scandal that is anything but something to be proud of. 

Roark-owned Focus Brands, parent company of Moe’s Southwest Grill, Schlotzsky’s and McAlister’s Deli, recently publicly committed to ban some of the worst forms on animal abuse from its supply chains. But Roark is also the major investor in prominent restaurant companies such as Arby’s, Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, which have all failed to address the cruelty inflicted on chickens slaughtered for meat in their supply chains.

Thousands of people nationwide have called upon Roark to ensure the rest of the chicken-serving companies it invests in publicly adopt similar welfare policies and ban unthinkable cruelties. Consumers’ calls, however, have been met with complete silence. If Focus Brands can make this important commitment, so can the other chicken-serving companies Roark invests in.

Without meaningful animal welfare policies, these companies allow suppliers to breed chickens to grow so quickly that their legs become crippled under their own bodies. Chickens spend their entire lives crammed together in dark, crowded sheds, where they breathe air filled with the stench of ammonia and sit in litter soaked with their own waste. A lifetime in these conditions causes disease, organ failure, respiratory problems and painful sores on the chickens’ bodies and feet. When it comes time for slaughter, suppliers are allowed to shackle live animals upside down, slit their throats and scald them in hot water, often while they are still fully conscious.

As a lifelong animal lover and advocate, I know no being should ever be subjected to these abuses. I also know chickens are sensitive and intelligent animals with unique personalities and the ability to communicate and even develop friendships with each other. Studies have shown chickens can complete complex mental tasks, learn from watching each other and pass down information from one generation to another. It makes me sick to think that countless wonderful creatures needlessly endure immense suffering every day.

Roark has both the power and ethical responsibility to encourage the companies it invests in to join the likes of Burger King, Starbucks, Panera Bread, Subway and dozens of others by banning some of the worst forms of animal abuse from their supply chains. It’s baffling that Roark continues to fail to do what is in its power to ensure the companies it profits from do not take part in heartbreaking animal abuse.

I believe the majority of University students and alumni would not want our institution affiliated with the animal cruelty that Roark condones. I can’t understand why the University would support such horrors by investing in Roark. The University has an ethical responsibility to its students and to animals to stop profiting from animal cruelty.

That’s why I am calling upon my fellow students to urge the University to take a stand against sickening animal abuse by divesting from Roark. We would never idly stand by if our beloved pets were facing such terrible abuse, so why not take a stand for chickens, whose cognitive abilities rival those of cats and dogs? Together, let’s encourage the University to be the school we know it can be — one we can say we’re proud to attend.

Samantha Plouff is an LSA and Art & Design sophomore.