Opinion: Third Voice - Trustees should take the lead on ethical investing

Patrick Andrews is a partner in business consultancy Pineapple Partners.

I was interested to read the article by Helen Verney in which she describes the pressures facing trustees to make socially responsible investment (Third Sector, 16 April). I am sure this is a dilemma for many trustees.

Verney's article highlights a wider problem - that by providing the fuel for the continued growth of large companies, charities are supporting a system that is causing widespread social decline and steadily destroying our planet. This may earn charities funds, but it is surely contrary to their purposes.

To take just one example, a charity engaged in the advancement of health should think twice before buying shares in any UK supermarket chain. These companies adulterate our meat with water and chemicals (according to the small print on the packet, at least) and promote the sale of cheap and cheerful food of minimal nutritional value while driving farmers to compete in a race to the bottom to produce the cheapest food.

It's not surprising that we have rocketing child diabetes and increasing numbers of children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, both of which have been connected with diet. Who can guess what the long-term damage to our nation's health will be?

I blame neither the trustees nor the supermarkets - we are all trapped in a race for money and have lost sight of the meaning of true wealth.

Pensioners of the future will have fat bank accounts, but how healthy will they be? And will there be trees left to print all their money?

I remain an optimist, so I look forward to the time when bold and far-sighted trustees, supported by advisers of integrity, will make the link between our social and environmental crisis and their own investment practices.

They will take the decision to support businesses whose practices are more in line with their purposes, and will resist the lure of short-term cash gains from more exploitative businesses.

Trustees doing this may be accused of breaching Charity Commission guidelines on investment. But I believe there will be trustees willing to run this risk in the interest of doing the right thing. I am convinced that the commission will ultimately be obliged to rethink and modify its mis-guided policy, and actively encourage trustees to invest for the future of us all.

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