"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

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Monday, 28 November 2011

Ethical Investment

Many of us own company stock, some of us perhaps without even knowing it, or at least thinking about it, because it is out of sight in our pension funds (although the deep recession at the end of the first decade of the new millennium, and the turmoil on world financial markets, brought such funds sharply into focus for many). Businesses must now be more accountable for their green credentials. But what about those companies that still operate unethical work practices. Those holding pension funds delegate full powers of investment to the fund managers who will be motivated and driven by the need to maximize profits and growth for the funds in their charge. As major shareholders these funds have enormous powers and are not likely to consider the ethical views of the individual pensioners against the overall drive for growth. It may seem that the individual does not have a voice. But we can have our say; we can influence others. All it needs is knowledge and courage and the support of other like - minded people. It can be done. Have you ever questioned your pension fund managers on this?
Does the small shareholder really know or even care how the company operates as long as he receives his regular dividend income? Can he possibly understand the full implications of the company’s business, how it treats its employees, how it deals with its waste, how it invests its own money. So many shareholders make their investments motivated solely by profit, without any regard for the ethical considerations. This is no less true of buying shares than buying consumer goods.
The implications of all this are enormous. As individuals we may unwittingly be helping to fuel warfare, for example, by carelessly investing or allowing our pension funds or banks or investment funds or unit trusts to invest in any company involved along the way with the production of weapons.
I pray for there to be a shift in attitude. When I was in practice as a Chartered Accountant and Independent Financial Adviser I had a particular interest in ethical investment funds for my clients. One bank without my knowledge or consultation transferred the ethical funds of one of my most principled clients into its own funds, declaring in the process that they would never take ethical considerations into account in their investment choices, only investment performance. This was some time ago. I hope the bank has reviewed its policies. Individuals who would think of themselves as ethical and feel aghast at the mess we are in have had their conscience swayed by the profit promise in this way. Have you checked the ethics of your own bank? There is plenty of information now available to check this out. Do you care?
Even the employees of a company who individually may think of themselves as honest and decent can be remote from the realities of the company’s business and the adverse environmental or social effects it may be initiating in its drive to make profits.
Do you know what your employer really does? Not just at the superficial level of your daily employment, but at grass roots? Are you absolutely comfortable with the company’s trading practices, its markets and its environmental footprint? And if not, what are you doing about it?
Most important of all we need to bring the healing power of spiritual values back into the company and its boardrooms. In our businesses and economies we can choose between technologies that are ‘developed for…commercial profit...that disregard natural rhythms and human aspirations’ or we can adopt a technology that is ‘appropriate, benign and renewable and makes a small footprint on the Earth. Such technologies work in harmony with nature, rather than attempting to dominate or conquer her.’(1)

‘Whereas we,’ said Dr. Robert in Huxley’s Island, ‘have always chosen to adapt our economy and technology to human beings - not our human beings to somebody else’s economy and technology. We import what we can't make; but we make and import only what we can afford. And what we can afford is limited not merely by our supply of pounds and marks and dollars, but also primarily - primarily,’ he insisted, ‘by our wish to be happy, our ambition to become fully human.’ (2)

A healed economy will support a global justice for all: it will give us all equal opportunities that we may flourish and become fully human. Are we all doing what we can as individuals to contribute towards that healing?

Adapted from Healing this Wounded Earth © Eleanor Stoneham 2011

1. Canon Revd. Peter Challen, SLIM annual lecture 2005. A Ministry of Service in Economic Life – Servants, Pastors, Prophets and Fools - 60 years of servants seeking the economy that befits the Kin-dom of God, South London Industrial Mission annual lecture 2005 sourced 4 December 2005, but no longer available at site, http://www.industrialmission.org.uk/cms/
2. Aldous Huxley, Island, London: Grafton Books, 1976, p.164.


Ron Robins said...

I was interested to read about your interest and trials with ethical investing.

Concerning ethical investing returns. It's interesting that surveys all-over-the-world show that most investors want to invest in ethical companies and don't want their investments being the cause of grief to others. Therefore, since so many of our core values are alike — and are supportive of higher ideals -- that in the long run, only companies employing these higher values will likely prosper, and thus deliver better shareholder returns.

I've been following ethical investing for some forty years too.

In 2003, I founded a site to educate investors about ethical/socially responsible investing. It's now one of the foremost global sites on this topic.

It covers the latest related global news, research, books, links, articles, etc., and according to Google rankings is one of the world's most popular on this subject. It's at http://investingforthesoul.com/

Best wishes, Ron

Eleanor Stoneham said...

thank you for that Ron!

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