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Commentaries by Ron
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Institutions Sign UN’s Principles for Responsible
The PRI is really another name for socially and
environmentally responsible investing. It is indeed
heartening to see how mainstream such investing
concepts are becoming. I just hope that these
signatories are serious and that it is not only a
corporate public relations exercise. Most of these
institutions are major financial and investing
firms, still engaged in numerous controversial
activities concerning their investing and lending
policies. Except for a few who are oriented towards
SRI, the majority of financial and investing firms
who signed on to the PRI continue to promote
investing or lending to environmental polluters and
socially irresponsible companies.
PRI hits $8trn in first year, by Heather Dale,
April 30, 2007, Global Pensions, UK.
Pharmaceuticals? A New Battleground. - [COMMENTARY]
Largely unreported is the growing field of
’pharmaceutical farming.’ This is where genetically
modified crops are grown to make ingredients for
drugs. Proponents say it can make drugs much cheaper
than by conventional means. Big pharma has so far
been reluctant to get too involved, but things could
change fast in this regard with current successes of
these crops. The ethical questions are huge, and
again, our food supplies and the natural world
itself could be in danger. This article is a must
read, particularly for those that invest in the drug
on the pharm,
by David Adam, April 30, 2007, The Guardian,
Emerging Markets. Miniscule, But Growing.
The article linked to below gives an interesting
perspective of socially responsible investing as it
pertains especially to the developing world.
Socially responsible investment,
by Sunil K Sinha, Business Standard, India.
Import Large Amounts Of Biomass From Developing
- [COMMENTARY] The
Dutch Cramer Commission released a final, major
report on how they should import large amounts of
biomass from the south. As an investor concerned
about the spiritual, ethical or environmental
impacts of energy, you will find this discussion in
the following linked article useful. It is a subject
that will concern us all for decades to come. The
article also discusses how many people in the
developing regard such trade as ’green imperialism.’
Dutch propose biofuels sustainability criteria: NGOs
sceptical, developing world says ’green
April 28, 2007, Biopact, Belgium.
American Tobacco (BAT) Accused Of Hypocrisy At AGM.
"The ASH report You’ve got to be Kidding, shows
that BAT is using marketing methods round the world
which glamorise and romanticise smoking, which are
known to be particularly attractive to young people
and which you voluntarily gave up using in the UK 30
years ago. How can you do this, yet say you practice
corporate social responsibility?" - From article
linked to below. How anyone can work or invest in
this industry and still claim a moral conscience
is beyond me!
750,000 Die In UK Corporate Social Responsibility
April 27, 2007, MaxHealth.com, UK.
Marketing Study Reveals True Value Of CSR.
- [COMMENTARY] The survey indicates that the public’s perception of
a company’s ethical stance is important as to
whether or not they purchase their products.
However, a company’s CSR policy is not a deciding
factor in the consumer’s purchasing decision.
CSR is not consumers’ priority,
April 27, 2007, MarketingWeek, UK.
Offering CSR Training To Executives.
- [COMMENTARY] When
Harvard Business School offers a new programme, one
knows that business will listen. Harvard always has
its ear keenly attuned to the thinking of top
executives. Again, another milestone is reached for
corporate social responsibility (CSR).
Harvard Business School Offers CSR Course to Execs,
April 27, 2007, GreenBiz.com, USA.
Buffett Asked To Sell Holdings With Sudanese Ties.
According to the article
linked to below, "Berkshire ...owns 2.3 billion
shares of PetroChina Co., a subsidiary of the
state-controlled China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC).
CNPC has extensive operations in Sudan; it owns a
major stake in Sudan’s national oil consortia." This
will be fascinating to watch and is likely come to a
head at the May 5 annual general meeting of
Berkshire Hathaway, Mr. Buffett’s holding company. I
have for many years admired Warren Buffett for his
ethics. Whatever he decides will have a significant
influence on the decisions of many institutions and
corporations who may also be considering divestment
of holdings which have investments or activities
that are supporting the Sudanese government.
Warren Buffett and Darfur: Sudan divestment movement
targets Berkshire Hathaway’s China oil holdings,
April 25, 2007, Sudan the passion of the Present,
Encourages Divestment In Companies Dealing With
Terrorist Organizations Or Countries.
The people behind
this website make the case of how successful the
boycott of South Africa was in helping get that
country’s government to end apartheid. Whether you
agree or disagree with this premise, the apparent
growth of such a movement could have significant
repercussions on your investments. All investors
need to keep abreast of these activities.
Center for Security Policy, Divest Terror
Mining Supports Socially Responsible Shareholder
Newmont management actually supported the resolution
before it was even voted upon. This shows the power
of the ethical investor movement today!
US mining company agrees to ’green’ review,
by Ben Arnoldy, April 25, 2007, The Christian
Science Monitor, USA.
The company is following the green trend set by
other retailers. It is interesting that when people
are asked to name the most respected brands,
Wal-Mart is often at or near the top. Yet, among
those in the socially responsible investing (SRI)
community, the company often ranks poorly. Many in
the SRI community are critical of Wal-Mart, often
citing low employee wages and other issues related
to product sourcing.
Wal-Mart making changes ’For the Greener Good’,
by Marina Strauss, April 26, 2007, The Globe &
Will The US
Legislate Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)?
There is just such a proposed law making its way
through the US Congress. I firmly believe that
companies have to be completely transparent in all
their activities as they relate to social,
environmental or other perceived activities and
risks. Standards for reporting this information need
to be developed and independent auditing performed,
then reported to shareholders. This may well require
government legislation. Shareholders must have all
facts before them before they invest in a company.
Too many companies are likely hiding from
shareholders enormous, potential liabilities due to
incomplete reporting of their activities.
Legislating Corporate Social Responsibility,
by Michael A. Levine, April 2007, GreenBiz.com, USA.
Backs UK Companies Offering Green Solutions To
Governments around the world need to
formally encourage their citizens to engage in green
consumption habits. Investors might want to
investigate exactly how the companies they invest in
are helping their clients become more
Discounts if you cut carbon,
by Jonathan Prynn, April 23, 2004, Evening
Investing Gaining Among US Social Conservatives.
If you have strong views about particular social or
environmental concerns, how can you then invest in
companies whose actions oppose your views? Even
though there are diverse opinions on many issues
affecting modern life, it is my sincere belief that
if we all invest according to our convictions, then
a much more ethical society with higher
values and greater prosperity, will evolve. Read
this article -
Social conservatives rally an investor army,
by G. Jeffrey MacDonald, April 23, 2007, The
Christian Science Monitor, USA.
Mining’s Activities Under Attack.
Shareholders at Newmont’s annual general meeting
today face two shareholder resolutions asking the
company to review its social and environmental
policies in various communities where it has
operations. The organizations issuing the press
release linked to below paint a dismal picture of
abuses that they attribute to the company. Perhaps
Newmont should consult with Jim Sinclair of
Tanzanian Royalty Exploration Corporation on how to
conduct business in developing countries.
Groups Urge Newmont to Address Shareholder and
April 23, 2007, CSRWire.com, USA.
Financial Advisors Should Better Serve The Islamic
is listed as the fourth largest religious group in
Canada, yet according to this article, they are
poorly served by Canadian investment advisors.
Financial/investment professionals everywhere need
to realize that values-based investing is the way of
the future. Values-based investing funds are growing
much faster than the general fund universe in almost
all countries where they are available.
Islamic market still underserved,
by Mark Brown, April 20, 2007, Advisor.ca, Canada.
Family Association′s Boycott Lowering Ford’s Sales?
The Association claims that over 700,000 Americans
have signed a pledge not to buy Ford Motor Company
products due to the company’s continuing support of
homosexual advertising and sponsorships. It also
says that mainstream media have ignored their ’do
not buy’ Ford campaign. Ford lost more than $12
billion in 2006. It us useful for an investor,
especially with a religious, spiritual or ethical
orientation, to examine this issue, as it may
influence one’s investment holdings.
Old Media Does Ford No Favors by Ignoring the
American Family Association Boycott,
by T Blumer, April 22, 2007, USA.
Companies Aim For Sustainability.
Canada has a reputation as a ’good guy,’ but few of
its companies rank among global sustainability
leaders. This is a good article describing the
thrust by many of the country’s corporations to move
higher on global sustainability rankings.
Good green goals,
by Sharda Prashad, April 22, 2007, The Toronto
Concerns Creating New Religions!
and groups around the world are coming together with
a focus on the environment and our consumption
habits. The movement is worth watching, from both a
spiritual and an investment perspective.
Put Your Hands Together for ’Eco-Faith,’
by Sarah, April 22, 2007, Sustainable Development
Mutual Funds Boom In The US.
It seems that Morningstar reports funds invested in
US faith based mutual funds increased to $17 billion
from $2.5 billion between 2000 and 2007. Spiritual
investing is moving from the fringes to the
mainstream, and by reading this column you are
proving this is a fact. Mr. Kostigen, the writer of
the article is a leader in covering stories related
to spiritual investing.
More investors acting on faith,
by Thomas Kostigen, April 20, 2007, MarketWatch,
Lead World In Being Ethically Aware.
UK shoppers are famous for leading in new trends.
And this is certainly a good trend. It leads to
massive changes in shopping habits and consumption.
Investors should look to the UK to get an idea of
how ethically aware consumers may influence the
outlook for companies in their own portfolios. See
if your advisor is aware of what ethically oriented
consumers may do to companies in your portfolio.
UK Consumers Are The Most Ethically-Aware, According
by Nick Morgan, April 20, 2007, The Retail
Large and small hoteliers are going ’green.’ They
are gaining customers as a result. The eco-hotel
industry is in the forefront of the green movement.
Many hotel industry workers are among the lowest
paid in society. It will be interesting to see if
this industry is ever pressured to do what
McDonald’s has done below, namely, pay more to their
lowest ranking workers. Will hotel customers begin
to differentiate among hotels based on their
corporate social responsibility polices? Should you
as an investor want to do the same?
Greening the Hotel Industry One Eco-Property at a
Heleigh Bostwick, April 20, 2007, ENN.com, USA.
Unique Strategy For The Developing World.
Intel is truly taking a bottom-up
approach in creating an inspiring IT enabled,
educational platform for the developing world. My
only concern about their strategy is its WiFi
aspect. Personally, I would like to see much less
electromagnetic radiation pollution in our
environment. Unfortunately, we may not know the
consequences of such pollution for many years, but I
feel that when we do know them, we will wonder why
the ’precautionary principle" was never applied!
Next Billion Customers? Intel’s Already a World
Robert Katz, April 20, 2007, WorldChanging.com, USA.
Workers Get Boost From McDonald’s.
So McDonald’s is paying more for its
tomatoes picked mostly by Mayan Indians, Latinos and
Haitians. This is a trend that is just beginning and
right out of the Fair Trade textbook. It shows a
higher consciousness taking hold in affluent
societies. Companies acting in such a socially
responsible way will likely see their brands gaining
in respect and even increasing their revenues too.
Making Supply Chains More Socially Sustainable,
by Brian Adeba, April 19, 2007, Embassy,
Top US Builders To
Disclose Their Energy Efficiency Performance.
Due to shareholder pressure, D.R.
Horton Inc. and Toll Brothers Inc. are to disclose
their energy efficiency and climate change-related
strategies. Among other companies similarly
pressured, Costco Wholesale Corp. and Starwood
Hotels & Resorts Worldwide have also agreed to
publish such reports. Construction and related
industries are huge consumers of material resources
and subsequent waste products. It will be most
interesting to see these reports. However, until
there is standardized reporting and auditing of this
information, as with financial statements, it will
be difficult to gauge the validity of what they
Investors Persuade Home Builders, Retail Giant and
Hotel Chain to Disclose Energy Efficiency
Performance, April 16, 2007, EDC Magazine, USA.
Direct-To-Consumer Advertising Create Unnecessary
- [COMMENTARY] The following study shows
massive increases in per capita drug expenditure in
the US as compared to Canada. In Canada,
direct-to-consumer drug advertising is severely
restricted while Canadians still outlive Americans.
There needs to be much greater debate about the
ethics of such advertising in the US. Investors with
shares in drug companies should review the article
below and ask themselves some deep questions as to
whether they feel comfortable with the approach
taken by the drug companies in the US. They might
also consider what may happen to drug company
profits if advertising restrictions were imposed,
especially with a Democratic Congress wanting to
reduce health prescription drug costs!
Direct-to-consumer advertising and expenditures on
prescription drugs: a comparison of experiences in
the United States and Canada, by Steven G.
Morgan, Open Medicine, Vol 1, No 1 (2007), USA.
Nanotechnology Gaining Ground While Public
Unprotected From Fallout. -
"In my experience...the public is
currently not adequately protected from possible
hazards due to nanoparticles." So says Dr. Rob
Sparrow, School of Philosophy and Bioethics, Monash
University, Australia. What concerns me greatly is
how little public debate there is regarding this
technology. Like GMOs, nuclear energy or
biotechnology, nanotechnology has the potential for
great harm if the ’precautionary principle’ is not
applied at once. A good test before investing in
areas like this is whether or not insurers will
provide liability coverage in case things go wrong.
Nanotechnology Progress, Dangers and Widespread
Hypocrisy, A Bioethics Essay, by Dr Richard
Sparrow, Monash University, AZoNano.com, Australia.
Offer Good Work-Life Balance Likely To Get & Retain
More Ethical Employees.
Studies like this show why those corporations
excelling in corporate social responsibility
activities generally outperform their peers
Deloitte & Touche USA LLP Survey Finds Strong
Relationship Between Work-Life Balance and Ethical
April 16, 2007, Press Release, Deloite & Touche, USA.
About Monsanto’s GM Foods.
"A variety of genetically modified corn that was
approved for human consumption in 2006 caused signs
of liver and kidney toxicity as well as hormonal
changes in rats in a study performed by researchers
from the independent Committee for Independent
Research and Genetic Engineering at the University
of Caen in France." From the article cited
below. This corn is approved for use in Australia,
Canada, China, the European Union, Japan, Mexico,
the Philippines, and the United States.
Monsanto’s GM corn MON863 shows kidney, liver
toxicity in animal studies,
April 10, 2007,
Gutierrez, NewsTarget.com, Taiwan.
Reaches Palestinian Farmers.
I truly hope that this is a sign of the future for
desperately poor Palestinians. Fair Trade is growing
enormously, and all investors need to keep abreast
of developments in this area. Its potential to shape
corporate - and shareholder - fortunes is just
New Fair Trade Deal between Palestinian Farmers and
#1 Organic Soap Brand Presented at Green Festival,
April 12, 2007, PRNewswire-USNewswire, USA.
US Retailer Focuses On Green Options.
Welcome, and part of a growing trend demonstrating
that consumers are driving changes in the
marketplace by demanding eco-friendly products.
However, as larger numbers of retailers participate
in offering eco-friendly products, it becomes harder
for environmentally oriented investors to
differentiate which of them to invest in.
The Home Depot Introduces Eco Options,
April 17, 2007, PR Newswire, USA.
HR Study Shows CSR On The Rise.
Brazil seems to lead in CSR. This study confirms the
growing importance of social, environmental and
ethical considerations in companies around the
Study finds Corporate Social Responsibility is
April 11, 2007, by RP news wires, Reliableplant.com.
Also, see actual survey,
2007 Corporate Social Responsibility: A Pilot Study.
Big On Biotech, Public Unsure.
Europeans are largely positive about biotech’s
medical benefits, but 58% are against GM foods. I
have said many times that the ’precautionary’
principle needs to be rigorously applied to all
biotech products. One wrong step could have
disastrous results for all humanity.
sciences and biotechnology – a key sector for
Europe’s competitiveness and sustainability,
April 12, 2007, E Gov Monitor, UK.
Investments Urged to Divest Investments In Firms
Doing Business With Sudanese Government.
This could be a replay of the
successful boycott that came about which helped to
eliminate apartheid in South Africa. With
investors increasingly applying ethical values to
their investments, such trends as this are likely to
gain markedly in strength. Consult your
advisor to be sure that you are not caught off-guard
with investments that could cause you problems.
Fidelity again hit for Sudan ties: Religious groups
call on co. to divest $,
by Jay Fitzgerald, April 12, 2007, Boston Herald,
Public Companies Buying Small, Private Fairtrade
As this trend intensifies, do the products of the
fairtrade companies remain ’pure’? The acquisitions
of The Body Shop (by L′Oreal) and Ben & Jerry′s
(Unilever) have certainly been controversial.
Nonetheless, investing in private, upcoming
fairtrade companies could become an interesting
specialty area - providing you can get the
knowledgeable, expert advice, for such speculative
Fairtrade companies set to become target for
acquisitions says analyst, April 11, The
Sin Stocks Perform At
It would be interesting to apply ’full-cost’
accounting to ’sin’ industries. Suppose we add-up
the costs of alcohol related road accidents and its
costs in lowering productivity, increasing family
breakdown, etc., to the cost of alcoholic beverages?
I believe that global society is entering a period
of much higher consciousness and that profits from
sin industries will be increasingly under strain as
income deficient governments, by way of taxation, start
full-cost accounting to these industries.
’Sin stocks’ may not be good for the soul,
by Carrie Tait, April 10, 2007, Financial Post,
Canada. See the actual study,
The Price of Sin: The Effects of Social Norms on
Harrison Hong and Marcin Kacperczyk, March 2007, USA
Doubts About Socially
criticize socially responsible/ethical investing as
being naive. That is, what is deemed ’responsible’
varies according to the values of the individual and
that it is almost impossible to assess companies on
qualitative value scales. The simple point is that
if we try to apply our personal values in our
investment decisions, then these values ultimately
get transmitted into the marketplace and
beneficially influence the entire business
environment. It is just that simple!
Joe Nocera: The trouble with socially responsible
investing, April 6, 2007, The International
Herald Tribune, France.
US Muslim Financial
The US is home
to some of the largest Arab Muslim populations
outside of the Middle East. It is great that these
populations are able to do banking and investment
activities that are in accord with their religious
Financial Institutions Expand Products that Target
U.S. Muslims, April 9, 2007, by Elizabeth
Kelleher, US Department of State, Information
Banks And Pension Funds Invest In Cluster Bomb
Scotiabank, TD Bank and the Royal Bank of Canada
participate in international financing syndicates in
providing credit to US cluster bomb manufacturers.
This is a black eye to these banks which purport to
show themselves as socially and environmentally
responsible. Furthermore, they are all signatories
to the United Nations Environmental Program’s
Finance Initiative, which,
according to their website,
"...carries out its mission to identify, promote,
and realise the adoption of best environmental and
sustainability practice at all levels of financial
institution operations." Furthermore, the Canada
Pension Plan Investment Board, an arm of the
Canadian government pension system, has over $50
cluster bomb manufacturers Raytheon, Lockheed
Martin, and Textron, even though the Canadian
government itself is a signatory to an international
treaty banning such munitions!
investments, by Peter Gillespie, April 5, 2007,
The Toronto Star, Canada.
Less Says UK Government’s Top Green Advisor. - [COMMENTARY]
Jonathon Porritt is the most senior adviser to the
UK government on sustainability and he is saying
that for the sake of the planet that we need to shop
less. His remark reminds me of how difficult this
may be to accomplish, especially with richer
consumers in the developed countries enjoying the
‘good-life’. Supporting my point is the recent
Angus Reid Strategies’ survey. It shows that
Canadians are less likely to reduce or change
consumptive behaviour than are poorer Canadians in
regard to climate change. I believe that Mr. Porritt
is partly right, but people should know that inner
fulfillment comes first. Then one does not rely
solely on outer pleasures for happiness. After
enjoying more inner fulfillment, people will be more
able to change their habits.
Stop shopping ... or the planet will go pop, by
David Smith, April 8, 2007, The Observer, UK.
Prepared Yourself Or Your Investments For Climate
[COMMENTARY] Create a
list of questions for yourself, for the family, and
for your financial advisor as you read the report
linked below. These questions just may be the most
important ones in your life!
Change 2007: Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and
April 6, 2007, Working Group II Contribution to the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth
Assessment Report, UN.
Mortgage Mess Creates Political Heat. -
hearts go out to the borrowers. I certainly agree
that the ethics of many of the lenders were suspect.
My feeling is that the legal system needs to be
empowered - if it does not have the powers already -
to deal with exactly who was unethically swindling
who. Unfortunately, some mortgage borrowers were
lying to get loans too!
Consumer Advocates Call for Subprime Foreclosure
April 4, 2007, Housing Wire, USA.
Compete for 2007 FT Sustainable Banking Awards.
The link below shows the banks that have been
nominated for this award, which is to be announced
June 7. This will be fascinating to watch, as I
believe the award could become a much coveted prize
by the banks, and may do a lot to encourage
sustainability in their operations and lending
World’s Top Sustainable Banks Compete for Award,
April 2, 2007, GreenBiz.com, UK.
Ranks Apple Worst On List For Toxic Products.
[COMMENTARY] It is
something to think about before buying Apple
products. How far do you apply your values to
what you buy - and to how you invest? To get an idea
of the most environmentally friendly global
electronics’ manufacturers, see the Greenpeace
rankings in the link below.
Chinese company tops Greenpeace "Green Ranking" of
April 3, 2007, Greenpeace International,
Organization Begins To Certify Organic Beauty
[COMMENTARY] Such certification seems timely to me,
and hopefully will spread beyond the UK. Investors
in beauty product companies might want to be aware
of this trend. It could become a significant
differentiating factor among these companies.
New organic beauty standard launched,
April 6, 2007, UKPRwire, UK.
Canadians Believe Less Than Poor Canadians In Global
Reid Strategies, surveyed in March 3,698 Canadians
for this poll. It found that richer Canadians are
less inclined to believe and take action on climate
change than poorer Canadians. This could indicate
why the elites in Canada have been so slow to act on
Rich and Educated Less Likely to Act Green, Today or
March 21, 2007, Angus Reid Strategies, Canada.
Overview of US Socially Responsible Mutual Funds.
Mr. Kathman follows up on his
earlier review of religious funds with this one on
US socially responsible funds. It is a good
introduction for anyone considering investing in
this fund sector.
Find The Right Socially Responsible Fund,
by David Kathman, CFA, April 3, 2007,
Organic Milk, Organic? -
[COMMENTARY] With many
large US supermarkets selling Horizon’s organic milk
and dairy products, this question is relevant since
much of Horizon’s milk comes from ’factory" dairy
feedlots. This is a great article to read for anyone
interested in consuming organic foods and/or
interested in investing in the industry.
Interview: Organic Consumers Association’s Ronnie
Cummins tells the truth about organic milk that
2, 2007, by Mike Adams, News target.com, USA.
See 30% Rise In Interest For Ethical Investing. - [COMMENTARY]
The survey was conducted in
March. It is a very good sign that UK investors are
getting serious about ethics in relation to their
investments. This sets a good example to other
Ethical investing ’gathering pace’,
by Scott Sinclair, April 2, 2007, IFAonline, UK.
Brokers & Financial Planners Held To Same Ethical
Standards. - [COMMENTARY]
There is no reason why these
individuals should not be held to the same ethical
standards when dealing with their clients. And this
is what the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District
of Columbia Circuit stated in an opinion on March
Very Good News for Investors and Consumers: ‘Merrill
Lynch Rule′ Overturned,
April 2, 2007, BizzyBlog, USA.
Buy Responsibly Mined Gold?
- [COMMENTARY] A campaign for
’ethical gold’ appears to be beginning. Many gold
miners have been criticized for behaving
irresponsibly towards the environment, their
employees, and to the communities in which they are
situated. Gold of course is not only used in
jewellery, but also has, and continues to be, used
as a currency. Some people believe that it is the
only honest - or ethical - currency. Indeed, that a
sound ’paper’ currency needs to have a tie to gold. This is a view
that I largely share and which I will explain in a
future editorial in our free newsletter, The Soul Investor.
Should I wear newly mined gold?
By Lucy Siegle, April 1, 2007, The Observer
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