Friday, July 21, 2017

Should Ethical Vegans Invest in the Stock Market?

The Vegan Vine
Many people invest for retirement, often blindly, focusing on returns and not knowing what they're really investing in.

There was a time when I invested, too—before the economy tanked and before I saw Michael Moore’s documentary, Capitalism: A Love Story. But is investing conducive to ethical veganism?

As with all big purchases, before investing I did my due diligence. I started my financial education by subscribing to Money magazine, I read Suze Orman’s Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke, and subsequently researched various companies and funds.

I chose Vanguard to manage my investments after I learned they charge the lowest fees, but I was disappointed with the choices available to me. While I was able to find mutual funds that offered solid returns, they weren’t ethically agreeable since they included companies like Exxon Mobil, Johnson & Johnson, and Procter & Gamble, which are neither environmentally-friendly nor vegan. So I began to look into something called Socially Responsible Investing (SRI), an approach that considers social issues in addition to financial returns.

For centuries, people have been practicing consumer activism and have been making conscientious decisions about how to spend their money. The Quakers prohibited their members from participating in the buying and selling of humans through the slave trade; during the Civil Rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King advocated the boycott of businesses and corporations promoting segregation, and many peace activists protested against companies profiting off the war in Vietnam. 

As it relates to stock exchanges, Socially Responsible Investing didn’t really take on global significance until the 1990s tech boom when SRIs addressed issues like tobacco, alcohol, and gun use. By the late '90s, environmental concerns and fossil fuels garnered more attention, however, by 2006, SRI portfolios still included companies that exploited animals for their products and/or services—and also charged higher fees.

In a recent online search for vegan stocks, Invest Snips identified only three companies on US stock exchanges, although at least one, Hain Celestial, is not vegan as they also sell meat and dairy products.

Optimized Partners, an investment advisor claiming to specialize in the investment needs of the vegan/environmentally conscious investor, advertises a Vegan Growth Portfolio on its website, however on closer inspection the fund includes companies like the Royal Bank of Scotland and Morgan Stanley, which have been linked to funding the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), as well as Belmond Ltd., a hotel and leisure company that offers safaris and serves animal products throughout its hotels, trains, and cruises.

Then there is Baleine & Bjorn Capital, a firm that invests in seven "companies creating solutions to outdated animal products." Two of the companies use animal cells to make cultured meat and leather-like goods. I do not classify these companies as vegan, especially when one pronounces "We love meat." Another company in their portfolio, Vaute Couture, sells vegan, recycled cotton sweaters for $398!

According to VegNews magazine, the plant-based milk market will be worth some $35 billion by 2024. Vegan products are making enormous strides as evidenced by the newly created Plant Based Foods Association, a trade group promoting policies and practices that improve conditions for vegan foods. And while vegan companies like Hampton Creek and Beyond Meat—the makers of Just Mayo and the Beyond Burger respectively—haven’t gone public yet, mounting sales and interest in the companies make it only a matter of time. Tyson Foods, which kills billions of chickens every year to turn them into nuggets, recently purchased a 5 percent stake in Beyond Meat and launched a $150 million venture capital fund to invest in meat alternatives.

Vegans who want to invest have more research to do than the average investor, but that's par for the course for those who give great thought to how their lives impact others. Most retirement accounts offered by employers are very limited and will not appeal to ethical vegans who, instead, may want to invest in individual vegan companies.

Personally, I have found investing immensely challenging from an ethical standpoint and impractical from a financial one. Animal-abuse culture is omnipresent and Wall Street is awash in companies capitalizing on the exploitation of nonhumans, humans (workers, children), and the environment. Just by their sheer existence, companies—even vegan ones—are responsible for habitat destruction and the loss of life due to development, use of resources, consumption, and waste.

Investing for retirement as an ethical vegan proves to be illusory and affirms the old adage that you can’t serve two gods. Vegans have to look at what's available and ask themselves whether investing in the traditional stock market and the Wall Street machine is not only feasible but just. Do we want to be part of a system that continuously grinds up lives and nature and spits it back out as more gratuitous consumer goods and services? Will we be happy knowing our financial future came at the expense of so much suffering and so many broken hearts?

How Do I Go Vegan?


David Cantor said...

This is so well done, including historical examples! The entire capitalist and consumer-capitalist endeavor has from the start been anti-life, following Francis Bacon's exhortation to put all in nature to human use. Veganism, while a valid expression of conscience and a way to lessen the moral injury we all bear under the Animal-Abuse Revolution beginning more than 50,000 years ago, is narrowly limited in its capacity to undermine animal-abuse policy, culture, and practice -- we must struggle politically and not merely as "consumers" -- a term which itself undermines our citizenship, our obligation to make policy.
A very enlightening source in these areas is Joel Kovel's book The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World. It promotes ecological socialism as a potential life-restoring replacement for life-destroying capitalism. With 7.5 billion humans, fresh water and topsoil per human running low, weapons and contaminants saturating Earth, and other daunting aspects of the situation at hand, there is no magic bullet. We must engage in all of our available time.
Thank you for such an enlightened and informative blog!
David Cantor
Responsible Policies for Animals
Glenside, Pa., USA

Marc Simon said...

I think wearing t-shirts that say "I love shepard's pie made with German Shepard" or "Do you mind if I eat your Labrador Retriever for dinner" would be good conversation starters out on the street, to get folks to realize that there is no difference, other than a legality, between killing a dog to eat it and "slaughtering" a pig or cow or chicken or turkey to eat it. But the investing ethical dilemma is certainly a huge one. Need a Microsoft or Google or some new-age company to start a trend of only serving vegan food in its cafeterias or even just in its vending machines - and then that gets publicized and other trendy companies start following suit. Don't mind me, I'm just blathering.....

Lyn said...

Fantastic, Bethany. Thanks so much for this, well done, as usual. My pension is through the State of New Jersey. If I were to put my money where my mouth is, I would have opted out pre retirement, but the time for that has come and gone. My only recourse now would be to give it monthly to vegan causes. I am not doing that.
I have lived my life happily fiddling away my summer sand as a result, my only financial assets are my car and mortgaged house, so no investments. But I've none-the-less given thought to this issue. Since becoming vegan, I have wondered about what might be in the portfolios of friends who invest 'responsibly' in progressive companies. Unfortunately, 'responsible' still leaves us out in cold. And then there is, for the time being at least, Social Security. There's a whole other story- or blog post- on the ethics of taking Social Security... Thanks again for the blog post.

Go Jules Go said...

Thanks so much for opening up this dialogue! I'm just beginning my research, but it doesn't seem like there's a whole lot out there addressing investing for ethical vegans. With the information I have so far, it seems impossible to "serve two gods," as you so eloquently put it, but as the previous commenter said, there is an opportunity to use our earned and invested dollars for causes we support. Across the board, whether it's food, clothing, employment, etc., it seems impossible to make 'perfectly vegan' decisions, so simply doing the most good and the least harm possible in any given situation will, I hope, count for something.