Although this might sound like an easy question to answer, there are more layers to it than first appear.
‘Ethical’ is a subjective word. What one person would consider ethical, may not be considered ethical to another,and over time what someone might consider ethical may also change, especially as community ideals change.
Uniting Church SA has an Ethical Investment Policy which frames what it will consider investing in under its current ethical framework. The Church has defined particular products or industries that it does not want to invest in. This type of investment filter is called a ‘negative filter’ as it states what cannot be invested in.
Over the past decade or so, there has been an increase in the number of investors using Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria in their investment decisions. This is a different scenario to an ethical filter, as investors seek to assist their investment decisions by rating (normally by independent organisations) companies on their performance of environmental, social and governance criteria.
Investors are seeking to have reliable ESG data to inform them on their non-financial investment selection criteria. This form of investing has led many companies to review their own actions, especially with the increasing attention and the amount of money that many investors are placing on this form of analysis.
Many analysts believe that attention to other than financial data can also drive longer term financial returns.
In 2015 all Uniting Nations Member States adopted an Agenda for Sustainable Development, as a blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. They recognise that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in- hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all the while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.
The Uniting Church’s values are aligned with the principles of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. In future, these goals would appear to be a good platform for reference as to whether companies and industry practices adhere to the general ambition of the Church’s non-financial investment goals.
If you are interested in finding out more about the UN Sustainable Development Goals, there is plenty of information readily available on the Internet, and if you want to research specifically what is happening in Australia, a good website is sdgs.org.au.