The concept of ethical investment goes back to the beginning of 20th century, developing strongly in the latter part of the century within developed investment markets such as the USA, UK, Europe and Australia. This growth came primarily from ‘faith’ investors, or the ethical funds that were launched adopted standard criteria that one would normally associate with moral judgements (booze, bombs, fags and porn for example).
Perhaps because the roots of ethical investment lie in faith groups, the issue of animal welfare has always been the poor cousin, the “black sheep” we could say. Many ethical funds had no criteria at all covering animal welfare and those that did only gave a token nod to issues such as cosmetic testing and perhaps, on a good day, expressed some concern over the treatment of farm animals.
The problem is a very simple one; when discussing ethical issues, animals are generally not part of the ethical debate. Yes, everyone loves their pets and they don’t like to see animals hurt, but that’s about as far as it goes. So, it is easy to see ethical investment funds develop with criteria which avoid investment in companies involved in human rights abuse, pornography, weapons and environmental damage, but it is incredibly rare to find criteria which will avoid investment in companies exploiting animals. The criteria we would look for to qualify for a true ‘cruelty free’ label, would be to exclude all companies involved in the following areas:
- All animal testing
- Meat and Dairy production
- Meat and Dairy Retail
- Rearing and retailing Fur products
In the late 1980s I started to develop ethical investment values which incorporated animal welfare criteria and by the early 1990s I had helped to establish the world’s first genuinely cruelty free investment funds I the UK. Of the three funds that were converted to being cruelty free at this time, two of them still exist and have demonstrated exceptionally strong performance over the years – rivalling other ethical funds and most mainstream funds too.
The two remaining funds running cruelty free criteria in the UK now total over £2Bn of assets. Most of the money in these funds will have come from general ethical investors and not necessarily those focussed on cruelty free issues alone. Such is the strength, reputation and performance of these funds that they have attracted such large amounts of investment money.
So, for the UK at least, the cruelty free investment market is going from strength to strength and in a few years will be celebrating its 25th anniversary. It is now time for the rest of the world to follow the UK’s lead and offer cruelty free investment options to everyone.
Lee Coates OBE is Director of UK financial planning firm Ethical Investors.
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