By Brenda A. Morris
If you choose not to eat animal products or are trying to limit your meat consumption for ethical reasons, you owe it to yourself and to the animals to take a look at the holdings in your investment portfolio. Even folks who are die hard carnivores would, all else being equal, most likely choose to eat animals who have been treated humanely versus those who have been abused and exploited. That said, why not extend that philosophy to your 401k and your IRA and only invest in companies that you want to support rather than those that harm, kill, or profit from animals?
While this may sound like a daunting and time-consuming task, investing in mutual funds is something you are most likely doing already. You can begin by examining the Sustainable and Responsible Investments (SRI) that are available to you now through your employer or through the firm that holds your retirement account. You still want your funds to be profitable so that you can continue on a path to financial independence, but now you are viewing the investment universe through the eyes of someone who cares about animals.
So how do we actually use our investment dollars to affect positive change for animals? While there is no easy answer, there are certain action items that can be implemented with relative ease. Exclusionary screening means that you do not invest in mutual funds that own companies that exploit or harm animals. You wouldn't buy fur or eat meat, so the next logical step would be not owning a company that sells fur or processes animals for food. Shareholder activism is a different tactic. Rather than simply avoiding funds that own companies of which you do not approve, you can own the offending companies with the sole purpose of affecting change by either proposing shareholder resolutions or by voting your proxies in accordance to resolutions proposed by others.
Some SRI mutual funds have filed resolutions to reduce animal testing for cosmetic purposes and to improve farm animal welfare. HSUS and PETA have approached pharmaceutical companies and asked that they not only report on animal testing but phase out testing with animals altogether when doing so is possible (i.e. legal). They have also asked retailers to end sales of fur products, and for industrial agriculture companies to phase out pig gestation crates and phase in cage free eggs.
Last year I learned that an SRI fund that my clients and I owned actually held a meat processing company. Because the manager decided to keep this holding even after our discussion, I let my clients know and we chose to sell this fund. Last month I learned that another SRI fund in our managed account program owned a company that fishes. While this disturbed me, most of my clients chose to keep this holding as the business purports to be sustainable and environmental to the extent possible. While SRI has been around for decades, humane investing is still in its infancy and not even every activist sees every issue the same way.
If you are interested in humane investing, then consider developing an investment policy statement which will guide you in determining an appropriate allocation using Sustainable and Responsible Investments. We have a tremendous opportunity to make a difference by demanding accountability from the companies in which we invest. Here's to a world of compassion for ALL beings!
Brenda is a Certified Financial Planner™ professional specializing in Sustainable and Responsible Investments. As a coordinator of the annual Richmond Vegetarian Festival and an active member of the Vegetarian Society of Richmond, she enjoys educating people on the virtues of living a healthy, cruelty-free lifestyle.