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Money and a Better Environment

By Lee Coates

(Originally published at Lughnasa 1994)

Unwittingly many people may be directly financing the arms trade, environmental destruction or human rights abuse through their bank accounts, life assurance, pension, savings and investment plans. For instance who can clearly say they do not share their Bank (and therefore their money) with the likes of BRITISH AEROSPACE, ICI AND GLAXO?

Polluted seal in oil When an arms manufacturer gets a large order and needs to increase borrowings from its Bankers to meet the order, can you honestly say that YOUR Bank does not lend YOUR money to finance the order? If a company agrees to finance or support a dictatorship can you be linked to the transaction? Where there is a serious chemical spillage into a river can you be seen as supporting this catastrophe?

These are important questions and every day hundreds of thousands of people who do not apply ethical or social screening to their money are allowing their funds to be used to finance companies and projects they do not support. If your Bank, Insurance or Investment Company were to ask you if you would mind them using your money to finance a heavily polluting company of course you would say no. But let's face it, when was the last time you were asked? For too long the financial institutions in this country have operated in a convenient moral vacuum. Playing the middle-man with someone else's money does not minimise the damage done with that money, or minimise the guilt by association. We must all demand of our Banks and Insurance/Investment companies that we informed as to what is done in our name. When given an opportunity to decide, the vast majority would not support child labour, environmental destruction or violent suppression in the pursuit of profit.

Much of the problem with the insurance companies lies in the fact that when the savings, investments or pension payments of thousands of people are pooled together the money is invested on the stock market. This money is going to be invested in companies with the sole aim of maximising the return AT ANY COST. This is your money and your future but how can you be sure that your future is not being rapidly destroyed by your own investments. The economics of the 'quick buck' are destructive. They work against all the laws of sustainable growth of working within the limits of the planet's resources and the clear natural law that if we destroy our planet we destroy ourselves. This is why we face so much destruction of our environment and erosion of the fabric of our society.

Whilst there will always be those who are happy to make easy money at the expense of others, the increasing trend for individuals, charities and companies is to seek profit via socially responsible investment. After all, who would disagree with investing in companies which have good employment records, manufacture products which people want to buy at a fair price, and on which a reasonable profit is made? It is important to remember that investment can and should be involved in the positive sides of business, such as respect for the community (local and global) and for the environment. In these troubled times, an enlightened attitude to our responsibilities to future generations is imperative in business if companies are going to survive.

By applying socially responsible or ethical criteria to the use of your money within the 'system' you are making a stand for change. As long as campaigning continues on the side lines very little change will come about. The heart of our current system is money and the pursuit of profit. Whilst there is nothing wrong with looking for growth from one's money, many draw the line at financing activities they do not support. By being part of the system but at the same time applying moral criteria to how your money is used enables change can take place more rapidly. Investing ethically is now one of the fastest growing areas in financial planning and as more people make a stand

so the speed of change will be accelerated. [By supporting and encouraging those companies who have swum against today's tide you can help to ensure that tomorrow's tide runs in favour of ethical, responsible and compassionate business practices. After all, Crowley descibed the art of magick as the art and science of causing change in accordance with Will. Time has also proved that investing ethically is not a handicap to performance.

What are the criteria?

Generally speaking the criteria used to select a company suitable for inclusion in an ethical fund can be split into two groups. The first are those which make a positive contribution while the second are those which are known to have a negative social or environmental impact.

The Positive

Positive selection will result in support and encouragement of companies that are associated with the following:-

  • Environmental protection
  • Pollution control
  • Safety and security
  • Ethical employment practices

The Negative

Negative selection can result, where required, in the avoidance of companies linked with any or all of the following:-

  • Armaments and Nuclear Weapons
  • Animal exploitation and experimentation
  • Oppressive regimes
  • Alcohol and Tobacco promotion
  • Environmentally damaging practices
  • Poor employment practices
  • Gambling
  • Pornography
  • Factory Farming and Meat Processing

How can one invest ethically?

Almost any financial transaction will have socially responsible options and as can be seen from the list given below we all have to make the choice. Very few of us will be able to get through life in today's society without at least one of the following:

  • Bank accounts
  • Building Societies
  • Life Assurance
  • Savings Plans
  • Lump Sum investments
  • Personal Pension Plans
  • Company Pension arrangements
  • Pension Transfer
  • Protection contracts
  • Car Insurance
  • House and Contents insurance
  • House purchase

My own company, Ethical Investors Group, is recognised as one of the few financial advisers in the U.K. specialising in, and which has a total commitment to, socially responsible investment advice. We can advise not only on where to have your Bank account but also where to investment a lump sum or with which company you should start a savings plan, Personal Pension or Life Assurance policy. As Independent Financial Advisers who is a member of the appropriate regulatory authority, we are committed to find the best ethical and financial product to suit your circumstances. In addition, as with the majority of other financial advisers we earn commission on the products taken out by our clients. Unlike other financial advisers, we pledge to distribute at least 50% of the profit from this commission to the campaign groups and charities chosen by our clients. In the last four years we have distributed over £65,000 including donations to Women's Environmental Network, Greenpeace, FOE, Oxleas Wood Appeal, Elefriends, Womankind Worldwide, CND, Amnesty International, BUAV, Compassion in World Farming and many others.

At present only around 800 advisers in the country (of which I am one) have qualified to join the professional body setting standards of competence and ethics for financial advisers. Finding the 'magic' combination of commitment to ethical issues and professional qualifications is paramount when requesting financial advice. It is a sad fact that the vast majority of people in this country are "sold to" as opposed to being advised. With so few advisers being independently assessed and qualified, this will continue as long as the public settle for the situation. By demanding advice from an adviser who is qualified you will be ensuring your future is placed in safe hands. The internal 'exams' of many insurance companies would not qualify as being independent. Membership of the Society of Financial Advisers is one of the very few ways an adviser can demonstrate the quality of the advice she/he is offering. Accepting less than this could seriously damage your financial future.

Editor's Note

Any UK-based pagan interested in looking into this subject further may like to contact Ethical Investors Group at their Head Office at 16 Carisbrooke Drive, Cheltenham, GL52 6YA or by phoning (01242) 522872.