Te Tiriti, Social Work, and Veganism

Te Tiriti, Social Work, and Veganism
In part two of a series looking at the interconnected nature of social work and veganism, social worker Luis Arevalo and animal rights activists Kerstin Hagena and Alina Hagena examine the way Te Tiriti o Waitangi might inform a just future.

In the first part of this series last issue, the authors looked at the ways social work practice in Aotearoa often fails to uphold its professional values and aims when it comes to recognising the sentience and wellbeing of animals. They now continue the discussion by looking to principles that might help transform the profession and its approach to the key concerns of veganism.   

Looking away from social work to another profession for a second, on the matter of physical and mental health, the medical profession seems to also be having the same trouble connecting the dots and making any meaningful advocacy steps towards a vegan philosophy.

The first principle under The New Zealand Medical Association code of ethics is to “Consider the health and well-being of the patient to be” as their number one priority. We are aware that there are a large number of well documented health risks associated with meat and dairy and while there has been some positive moves in the direction of a more plant-based diet, as vegans we don’t see it going far enough, although we’ll leave this for another discussion.    

As do most organisations and professions the world over, social work in Aotearoa New Zealand is based on a set of values and principles which, we find, lend themselves perfectly to a vegan world – if only it would embrace it that way.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi is recognised as the foundation of governance for the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW). It has seven key pou, or values, that outline the expectations of social workers of their commitment to the treaty. If we were to briefly look at three of them — whanaungatanga (close connection), wairuatanga (the spiritual dimension of all existence) and rangatiratanga (self-determination) — through vegan eyes, we can see that veganism flows perfectly through each value. These values are interwoven into the fabric of the fight against climate change, and therefore add an ethical obligation to social workers to take up the fight.  


Whanaungatanga declares the interconnectedness of all life on earth; if there is a change on one level, there is an up and downstream effect on all. As part of their work under this value, social workers are asked to evaluate how their practice impacts on others. We believe this puts an obligation on social workers to move away from only a human-centred approach and be clear that every action, or more to the point, inaction, has far reaching ramifications for all life on earth and the earth’s very existence. Every minute they spend only working on the micro and not tackling the issues affecting all sentient beings is a minute closer to earth’s extinction. Their practice, like the value, should now be bracketed with an eye to an existential threat that goes beyond a one-on-one praxis and embraces all life on earth. 


Wairuatanga, while referring to the spiritual, also talks to the acknowledgment of people’s wellbeing. As we know, wellbeing embraces taha tinana (physical health), taha whānau (family health), taha wairua (spiritual health), and taha hinengaro (mental health). A degradation of one puts pressure on the others, causing an imbalance. A non-vegan world arguably affects all four pillars. The social work profession should be working towards implementing wellbeing at this level without delay.  


Now we come to rangatiratanga. It not only incorporates self-determination and personal empowerment but also asks for us to respect the same for others; the chance to live a life free from unwanted negative processes thrust upon them. The principles under this value mention promoting policies that are socially just. This means advocating against policies that get in the way of someone living a fulfilled life. One cannot live a fulfilled life when your physical, spiritual, and cultural foundations are being eroded by processes out of your control.  

A non-vegan society negatively affects these values permanently, contributes to climate change, and kills millions of sentient beings. We believe the social work profession, through its values, code of ethics, and its place in society, has a responsibility to tackle this head on.  

And while this article is focusing on Aotearoa New Zealand, internationally there is a call for social workers to do more than they currently are to tackle the crisis. The International Federation of Social Workers has stated: “Climate change affects not only humans but all species. We have a responsibility for all species.”

Our trajectory, the way the world is producing and consuming, is a threat so all-encompassing that it is affecting everything. Social work should be heavily invested at all levels of advocacy and in fact has an ethical obligation to do so. 


Seven Pou of the ANZASW Code of Ethics

Rangatiratanga: Social workers value diversity and cultural identity. We use our practice to advocate for and support self-determination and empowerment of others.

Manaakitanga: Social workers recognise and support the mana of others. We act towards others with respect, kindness and compassion. 

Whanaungatanga: Social workers work to strengthen reciprocal mana-enhancing relationships, connectedness and to foster a sense of belonging and inclusion.

Aroha: Social workers acknowledge our mutual responsibility for wellbeing. We recognise our common humanity with people who use our services and hold people to account, using professional judgement without being judgemental. 

Kotahitanga: Social workers work to build a sense of community, solidarity and collective action for social change. We challenge injustice and oppression in all its forms, including exploitation, marginalisation, powerlessness, cultural imperialism and violence.

Mātātoa: Social workers act with moral courage in situations that are uncomfortable, challenging and uncertain. We use critical reflection and questioning to work through contradictions and complexity.

Wairuatanga: Social workers attend to the wellbeing – spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical – of self and others. We acknowledge the significance of whakapapa, self-awareness and self-care.

Aotearoa Vegan and Plant Based Living Magazine
This article was sourced from the Autumn 2023 edition of The Vegan Society magazine.
Order your own current copy in print or pdf or browse past editions.

The articles we present in our magazine and blog have been written by many authors and are are not necessarily the views and policies of the Vegan Society.

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