Taking a Hard Look at Your Investments

“I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”– Luke 16:9

Saving for retirement is a wise thing. But if you have retirement investments, such as an IRA, 401(k), or 403(b), you know that most high yielding mutual funds are made up of an interminably long list of individual stocks (index funds), many of whom resemble a Dick-Tracy-like rogues’ gallery of oil spillers, chemical polluters, coal burners, privacy invaders, big agra, big pharma, or the military-industrial complex: from Monsanto and Shell Oil to Haliburton and Walmart. For some of these, treating the environment like an endless roll of toilet tissue may be the least of their crimes. They are also actively engaged in oppression of workers, child labor, downright slavery, or even war crimes or crimes against humanity.

I suppose most investors are not aware of these issues. Perhaps we don’t ask because we don’t want to know. We’re looking for the big return, if we’re going to enjoy retirement and avoid working at CVS into our eighties. But complicity is complicity, whether it’s done with foreknowledge or merely out of ignorance. We do have a responsibility to make sure our money is invested ethically and that big return does not come with a high human and environmental cost.

18th-century Methodist evangelist and theologian John Wesley was one who challenged his followers in the ethical use of mammon. His sermon “The Use of Money” is still a sound practical guide for the Christian who wants to make good return on his earthly investments without doing harm to himself or his neighbor in body or soul.

Fortunately, there now is a growing market for what are called Socially Responsible Investments (SRIs). These are investments in corporations that are screened for certain ethical, economic, environmental and labor practices. An SRI fund selects stocks in companies that have taken a stand on sustainability (in their use of the planet and human beings) or have reformed their corporate culture in terms of executive compensation and financial transparency. But the emphasis here is not on ethics alone; it’s also on good return. It is actually possible to have both.

For more information on SRIs, check with your investment management company. Many have at least a few of these. If you are not satisfied, change companies if you can. [That may not be possible with a 401(k) or 403(b), but speak to your employer and let your voice be heard.]

For more information on SRIs, click here or here.

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