Socially responsible investing (SRI) gained prominence with the general public in the 1970s when activism raised social consciousness on a number of issues. Some investors particularly did not want to support companies that profited from the Vietnam War. A second surge in interest in SRI arose with investor opposition to apartheid in South Africa in the 1980s. Again, some investors wanted to restrict their support to companies that matched the investors’ own values.
Investors can screen to avoid companies that profit from practices that are considered immoral by the investor (such as war or apartheid) and screen to affirm (i.e., purchase stock in) companies they wish to support.
In the United States it is the shareowners who elect the board of directors; approve by-law changes; approve mergers and divestitures; approve increases in the number of shares that can be issued; and approve the appointment of auditors. Because most shareowners do not attend annual corporate meetings, officers and boards communicate through proxy statements and ballots. Failure to exercise the proxy vote delivers a vote for current management and the status quo. Proxy voting is the simplest and most direct way of influencing CEOs, corporate officers and boards of directors.
Shareholder Activism: Corporate Dialogue and Shareholder Resolutions
Religious institutions, labor unions and SRI mutual funds can influence corporate management through formal dialogues during which shareowners advocate to improve corporate practices and ethical standards. Shareowners can also write letters to corporate executives and board members to advocate actions or to support or object to a corporation’s activities or policies. When shareowners are not satisfied with the results of these strategies they can go to the next level and introduce shareholder resolutions, a legal process regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission. In recent years, resolutions on global warming have won shareholder support as high as 30-39 percent – a stunning expression of shareholder concern about climate change.
Alternative Community Investments
Community investing ranges from micro-enterprise projects to community banks, credit unions and loan funds. They focus on empowering people who are often underserved by traditional financial services and would not otherwise have access to credit. This is one of the most important tools for addressing economic inequalities. Every investor should consider allocating at least a small portion of his or her portfolio to community investments.
More than $1 out of every $9 that is professionally managed is in a socially responsible investment – $2.16 trillion in assets. Screened accounts enjoy a competitive rate of performance, assuring investors a fair return while they use their money to extend their values.