Ethical Performance
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groundswell of opinion favours pension ethics

August 1999

As pension fund trustees prepare to make public their stances on ethical investment, a new opinion poll has shown that the general public, at least, is ready and willing for them to venture into new territory

Eight out of 10 people believe that companies wishing to be seen as ‘green’ or ‘ethical’ need to develop an ethical investment policy for their own pension schemes, according to a new poll.

The survey, carried out for the Ethical Investment Research Service (EIRIS) by NOP Solutions, found 83 per cent of those questioned agreed that any company trying to be socially responsible must have a occupational pension fund that is at least in part invested ethically.

It also discovered that more than three-quarters of adults agreed their own private or company pension scheme should operate an ethical policy wherever it can do so without reducing financial returns – and that 84 per cent felt the annual statement sent by a pension fund to its members should list companies it invests in.

Just over a third of respondents (37 per cent) said they would also like to see a small part of their pension fund invested in businesses that promote social or environmental causes, even if this resulted in lower returns.

The survey was based on face-to-face interviews with 493 present or future members of occupational or personal schemes.

EIRIS claims the results show pensions minister Stephen Timms was right to introduce the new regulation in July requiring pension fund trustees to state their policy on ethical investment. It argues they should come as a significant jolt to those who run pension funds.

‘The huge demand for ethical pensions may come as a surprise to many trustees, but we hope they’ll at last want to find out whether there is a similar level of demand among their own members,’ said Karen Eldridge, head of client services at EIRIS.

‘The survey shows tremendous support among scheme members for the government’s ethical disclosure proposals.’

The survey has some interesting pointers in other directions too. It shows, for instance, a significant difference in the attitudes of the sexes to ethical investment, with 37 per cent of men stating that their scheme should concentrate only on financial returns and not take any ethical factors into account, compared with only 22 per cent of women.

Women are also far more concerned than men about companies that manufacture weapons (61 per cent objectcompared with 40 per cent of men), operate in oppressive regimes (66 per cent versus 50 per cent) or develop genetically modified crops (53 per cent versus 40 per cent).

In terms of age, the most ethically concerned appear to be those aged between 35 and 44, who are the least likely of any age group to agree that pension funds should concentrate on financial returns only. They are also the most likely toobject to GMOs, although 55 to 64 year olds are the staunchest objectors to pension fund investment in companies that operate in oppressive regimes or manufacture tobacco.

Tobacco making, however, came surprisingly low down the list of activities that pension holders objected to their fund investing in – surprising because practically all UK ethical and ecological funds routinely screen out tobacco manufacturers. Yet only four out of 10 of those questioned actually objected to investment in tobacco manufacturers.

Significantly more objected to investment in companies working in oppressive regimes or breaking environmental regulations (56 per cent in each case), animaltesting (56 per cent), weapons manufacture (48 per cent) or developing GMOs (45 per cent).

While many respondents said they would like their pension fund to use its influence to improve corporate performance on green and social issues, a greater proportion (54 per cent) said they wanted it to press for curbs on directors’ pay, if a company had not done well financially.




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