Ethical investment is a growth industry

Duncan Exley, head of Fair Pensions, tells David Ainsworth why ethical investment is a growing trend.

Ethical investment is no longer just about having your cake and eating it, says Duncan Exley. It's about getting a bigger slice of that cake.

Exley should know. He's a long-time campaigner for ethical finance and head of Fair Pensions, an organisation that has spent years working towards principled pension investment.

"The evidence suggests that ethical companies actually make more money," he says. "Unethical companies can be quite a bad investment - they get sued and can be prone to accidents and insurance claims. Ethical companies are often better future-proofed. They aren't vulnerable to public boycotts or to government regulation."

Much of the avoidance of ethical investment, he says, dates back to assumptions made when the concept was introduced.

At the dawn of ethical investment, he admits, keeping true to your principles might have meant surrendering your profits, because the market did not understand the risks and rewards of ethical money-making.

Today, he says, even hard-nosed fund managers are demanding ethical behaviour as a prerequisite for investment.

"A lot of investment firms, such as Hermes, Morley and Insight, demand that companies behave well," he says. "One fund recently persuaded several oil companies to pull out of Burma, for example, and that immediately sent share prices up.

"Funds that don't label themselves ethical often use the same tactics as those that do, because the tactics are effective."

The bottom line, he adds, is that ethical finance is a growing industry. And it's not growing just because it's ethical, but because it works.

Charities interested in ethical investment should check out charitysri.org, a website set up by ethical investment promoters Eiris and UKSIF. Their advice is to carry out research and decide exactly what ethical investment means to your charity.

"You can't have a one-size-fits-all approach," says Sam Collin, the site's project coordinator. "You need to have goals and decide them at trustee level."

She adds that advice is available for those considering ethical investment. "Many fund managers are willing to help, and charities that have a programme in place are likely to be able to provide information."

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