His reaction was the general tone of the seminar. An investment banker had been invited to speak about portfolio management and advise trustees how to increase their investment income. He seemed like a very nice man: clean-shaven and as humorous as you can be in a room full of number-crunchers, talking about hedging and investment strategy. What did shock me though was his statement that he didn’t operate an ethical investment strategy. In fact he advised against it. One of his slides even had British American Tobacco as part of a portfolio. Given that the tobacco industry exploits poverty and children by selling cigarettes to developing countries, knowing that the poor smoke to stave off hunger, I was disgusted by his comment and even more disgusted when not one single trustee objected to his advice. It could be that they didn’t want to embarrass the host by saying anything, and nor did I, but more likely than not they were and still are profit-motivated over and above charitable principles.
There is nothing wrong with maximising income for your organisation but when trustees and investment advisers benefit from making others ill, I despair for the values we all live by. However, I can’t see a way to introduce ethical policy investment other than through legislation, as moving away from existing portfolios clearly isn’t anything trustees will change by themselves.
In the words of Rohini: You shouldn’t make people ill so you can take their money.