Investors unwittingly support unethical industries

Unethical investing

More than two thirds of investors do not know whether the activities of industries or companies they are investing in are ethical

Over 60 per cent of investors are unaware of which industries and companies their investments are in despite the majority stating that they would not invest in unethical companies, according to research from sustainable and ethical bank Triodos.

Triodos’ research revealed that more than 70 per cent of investors want more of their pensions and investments to be invested in environmental and social sectors, such as renewable energy, while 85 per cent of investors would act if they felt their investments conflicted with their personal ethical views.

The bank says that the ethical areas of most concern to investors are human trafficking (70 per cent), forced and/or child labour (67 per cent), pornography (49 per cent), animal testing (45 per cent) and arms / munitions (41 per cent). The majority of investors stated that they would stop investing in a particular company, fund or pension if they discovered that they were involved in these practices.

Despite this Triodos says that investments made through pension funds and stocks and shares ISAs, for example, can lead consumers to inadvertently finance activities they ethically or morally object to.

Triodos says that recent analysis of local government pension schemes in the UK revealed that more than four million government workers had £14 billion invested in fossil fuel companies.

Commenting on the results of the survey, Huw Davies, head of personal banking at Triodos Bank, says: ‘The results show that people do care about the activities their pensions and investments are financing, but with almost two-thirds oblivious to where their money is being invested, millions run the risk of inadvertently investing in areas which contradict their personal ethical preferences.

‘A big part of the problem is the lack of transparency in financial products – it should be much easier for the average investor to find out which companies and activities their money is financing so they can make informed decisions,’ Davies says.

People investing through company pension schemes in the UK are often most at risk of investing in companies and industries to which they object due to the opacity of many of these schemes.

Research recently conducted by us underlines the difficulty faced by investors wishing to discover and/or change the underlying investments within their company pensions, with providers often less than willing to engage with policy members.

However, with Triodos’ research highlighting such strong investor opinion about the environmental and social impact of their investments, Davies urges investors to do what they can to align their savings with their principles: ‘Investors are willing to support more sustainable activity, but are likely to be missing out unless they’ve taken active steps to do so such as investing in SRI funds. Individual investors can make a difference by taking a look under the bonnet of their pensions and investments, and doing something about it if they’re not happy with what they discover,’ he says.