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ESG – How to invest ethically

By Chris Burke
This article is published on: 29th January 2022

Positive Ethical Screening

Over the last few months, I’ve noticed a large increase in enquiries relating to ethical investments. It’s brilliant to see so many people looking and willing to make a positive difference to the world, whilst also in many cases seeing an equally positive return on their investments.

However, I often get questioned ‘What exactly makes an ethical fund ethical?’ and ‘What exactly do the companies that are defined as ethical funds do to make themselves ethical?’

Traditionally, ethical investing has focussed on omitting companies which operate in a non-ethical manner (for example, companies that produce arms or alcohol). However, it is just as important that when investing ethically we also consider the positives as opposed to solely filtering out on the negatives. There are many funds and companies out there who actively make amends to be more ethical, sustainable and make the world a better place, which doesn’t always get taken into account when negatively screening. In this article, I will go over positive screening criteria that I look for in an Ethical or Sustainable Fund. What exactly makes an ethical fund (or company), ethical?

Communication, Lobbying and Engagement

Funds that regularly communicate, lobby and engage with the companies in which their funds invest in. Although there is no guarantee that doing this will make a difference, communication is never a bad thing and there is potential for it to result in positive changes. For example, a fund could issue an ultimatum to a company if they do not act to reduce their carbon footprint. If the firm does not act, then the fund may well disinvest.

For example, Blackrock are pushing for more disclosure from companies. Specifically, they are asking companies to disclose how their business model will be compatible with a net-zero economy. By actively communicating and lobbying the companies which they include in their ethical funds, this will make companies take note and, hopefully, change for the better. If all investment management corporations followed suit, the chances of companies in general becoming more ethical and sustainable would increase.

Climate Change
Funds that contain companies which actively establish policies relating to reducing the impact of climate change. This could mean reducing their carbon footprint by reducing their mileage or switching their vehicle fleet to electric cars, or by utilising sources of renewable energy such as solar panels and wind turbines.

Various investment management companies such as JP Morgan, Schroders and Templeton all have specific climate change funds. The criteria by which each fund selects does vary, however the goal of all of them is to appreciate by investing in companies which adapt to risks posed by climate change and resource depletion. For example, Schroder do not filter based on sector but they select companies which are based on five themes: clean energy, energy efficiency, sustainable transport, environmental resources and low carbon leaders. JP Morgan operates a specialist thematic approach, utilising artificial intelligence and data science to create a portfolio of sustainable companies. Templeton select companies which exhibit superior climate-change practices and favour companies that provide low carbon solutions, companies transitioning to a low carbon economy and companies that are resilient to climate change.

Human Rights
Funds that favour companies who tackle human rights issues. This could mean by actively reviewing and ensuring that they do not break any human rights issues such as child labour, poor labour or generally poor working conditions. For example, if a firm was to use the services of a subcontractor, then they could actively and regularly audit them to ensure that no human rights issues are present.

Abrdn have a strong human rights stance, as demonstrated in a recent report. As they have an ESG friendly approach for their company as a whole, this naturally flows through into the companies that they select for their fund range (although they don’t have a specific human rights fund). The company performs regular human rights assessments to monitor that they are on track. As stated in the report, their human rights status is underpinned by four core beliefs and they are supporters of the ‘Protect, Respect, Remedy’ framework agreed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2008.

Positive Contributions to Society
Funds that generally screen for companies that make a positive contribution to society. For example, funds that look for companies that create products such as medical products that could save lives or industrial machinery that could help make people’s jobs safer. Furthermore, companies that offer good working conditions including pay, hours and the environment could also be screened positively. A positive working environment could see positive human resources policies within an organisation relating to disabilities, assistance with parental care and flexible working. If a company donates a sizable percentage of their profits to charity, then they could also be included here.

There are many examples of investment companies and funds which positively contribute to society. M&G have one of the most extensive ranges of ethical and sustainable funds ranging from funds that invest in long-life, immovable infrastructure assets to funds that invest in companies which companies that contribute towards the Paris Agreement goals. Furthermore, Prudential have been named as one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies by the Ethisphere Institute for the 7th year running. The award is based on five key categories: ethics and compliance program, culture of ethics, corporate citizenship and responsibility, governance, and leadership and reputation. Prudential were one of six financial services companies out of 132 honourees.

Welfare of Animals
Funds that look at companies that show a general interest in the welfare of animals. For example, this could be ensuring that farm animals have quality facilities, enough space to roam and a lasting, regular supply of food and water. It could also focus on funds that include firms who do not facilitate tests on animals. However, it is important to be aware that a lot of firms test on animals in accordance with ‘best practice’. But is this ethical? The more ethical choice would be to not test on animals at all.

Various funds show a clear interest in animal welfare. This is stated in the various fund factsheets and prospectuses. Morningstar conducted an analysis of funds that are against animal testing. The fund which came out on top, The Vegan Climate ETF Index, describes itself as having zero animal exploitation.

If you would like to find out more about ethical investing, or invest your pension or investments in a more ethical manner, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Chris via the form below.

Article by Chris Burke

If you are based in the Barcelona/Costa Brava area and would like to have an initial, complimentary face to face video call or arrange a time to visit Chris in his office in central Barcelona, contact Chris on or whatsapp +34 689915730.

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