Since the pioneering days of the nineteenth century the co-operative movement has had an interest in the way that investment capital can be used differently, not just to make as much money as possible. That interest is still there: co-operative capital is one of the five key areas being focused on in the International Co-operative Alliance’s current strategic plan.
My personal and professional interest in this area doesn’t go back quite to the nineteenth century, but I’ve written over quite a number of years journalistically on some of the major initiatives for what has at various times been called ‘ethical investment’, ‘socially responsible investment’, ‘alternative investment’ and now, it seems, ‘positive investment’.
So I’m interested to see that the ethical share trading platform Ethex is at present supporting a major academic research study into the attitudes of ‘positive investors’ (ie people who make savings and investment decisions on more than simply the rate of return on offer). You may like to support this project by completing their online survey, which is to be found here.
‘Positive investment’ is what Jamie Hartzell calls the sort of ethical investment he’s concerned with. As he points out, ‘ethical investment’ in its traditional sense (as for example in the ethical unit trusts on the market) often includes holdings in firms such as Vodafone, Nestle and BNP Paribas – not necessarily everyone’s idea of ethical business.
By contrast, he suggests that ‘positive investment’ means initiatives such as the Ecology Building Society, Charity Bank, the Ethical Property Company, Traidcraft and Triodos Renewables – in fact, the sort of investments which his new organisation Ethex (= Ethical Exchange) is designed to promote.
I have interviewed Jamie by phone several times over the years (he was the leading light behind the Ethical Property Co, and I wrote a piece on the share issue which his firm launched back in 2002), but hadn’t met him until yesterday. Ethex is, in a sense, the necessary next step, given the growth in alternative investing which Ethical Property (and before that fair trade firms such as Traidcraft) have helped develop. The difficulty with positive investing has always been what happens later on when the original investors want to (or have to) sell their shares. The lack of a straightforward secondary market in these investments has always been a significant problem.
Ethex (launched earlier this year) provides a rough-and-ready solution to this, by providing a mechanism to put sellers and buyers in touch with each other. But because the number of relevant share and bond investments is still small and the number of trades also low, Ethex has sensibly chosen a broader remit for itself. It is hoping to develop a comprehensive website where would-be investors can find advice and details of other appropriate savings and investment products, including such things as the Ecology Building Society and Bristol credit union savings accounts.
When I met Jamie he was carrying a copy of a new report from Ethex, Positive Investing in the United Kingdom, which among other things identifies ten ‘hotspots’ where positive investors can particularly be found. (Yes, it does include some of the places you’d expect to find in such a list, including, I’m pleased to see, my own home town). The report is being published next week, which apparently has been designated Ethical Investment Week (news to me). It’s worth a look.