Shareholders Deliberate on Ethical Investments
19 March 2001 at 12:03 pm
Australia is the highest share owning population in the world with 53.7% of Australians holding shares directly or indirectly through superannuation or managed funds. And never before have corporations been more under the microscope, as the move to ethical investments gains strength.
Right now corporations are faced with the competing pressures of providing maximum financial returns as well as projecting an image of a good corporate citizen to more discerning shareholders.
Corporations are surrounded by watchdogs pointing investors to ‘ethical’ companies, urging shareholders to take a closer look at the environmental and social impact of the company they have put their money into.
Public debate on ethical investing is about to step up a notch when it moves through a sophisticated research methodology known as a Deliberative Poll.
It’s the initiative of a high powered group led by Dr. Charles Lane of the Myer Foundation and Pamela Webb of the Corporate Citizenship Alliance and supported by Issues Deliberation Australia Ltd.
Organisers say “Shareholders Deliberate” has the potential to set new directions in corporate citizenship and create new relationships between corporations, their shareholders and the communities in which they operate.
It has seed funding from the Myer Foundation and the Prime Minister’s Community Business Partnership has committed $100,000 to the initiative. It is also looking for corporate sponsors and more government dollars and finding these funds will make or break the project.
Project consultant, Catherine Brown, says BP Australia has started the ball rolling with a “challenge” grant of $10,000.
Brown also says they are hoping other corporations will top that challenge and give $25,000.
Issues Deliberation Australia is a Not for Profit established to facilitate public consultation and debate and conduct research on topical issues.
A deliberative poll to examine the future of shareholder-corporation relationships would involve a sample survey of 300 randomly selected people brought together to deliberate for three days. They are provided with expert information and are able to debate the topic. The event is televised and the people are polled at the end of the three days to see how their opinions have changed following the opportunity to have ‘informed’ debate.
If this is sounding a little familiar, more than 15 Deliberative Polls have been conducted around the world so far including our very own ‘Australia Deliberate: A Republic Yes or No?’ and more recently the ‘reconciliation deliberation’ last month.
Catherine Brown says a televised Deliberative Poll focused on the changing relationships between shareholders and corporations would provide the Australian people with an exciting and unique opportunity to be involved and informed on a topic that affects half of them directly.
Brown says the group is currently in discussion with several TV networks about coverage of the Poll during business and finance orientated programs. The poll is scheduled to take place on the 14-16 September in the Council Chamber of the Victorian Parliament House.
Australian Ethical Investment Ltd estimates that in Australia, ethical investments accounts for around $1billion and represents only a small fraction of the financial services sector. The company says it is Australia’s only funds manager dedicated exclusively to environmental and socially responsible investment.
Businesses wanting to be identified as ethical investments can join the Ethical Investment Association that offers membership to companies that can demonstrate their dedication to being good corporate citizens. The Association’s web site is at www.eia.org.au.
The Corporate Citizenship Research Unit at Deakin University is running a series of lectures throughout the year on the issues of shareholders and corporate responsibilities.
And the hot topic in the media is the rush by corporations and shareholders to address human rights issues in their investment and policy decisions.
The Internet journal, Ethical Investor Magazine, reports that a survey by Resnik-KPMG found that the environment, human rights and labour relations are the top issues for Australian investors.
Recent media attention on clothing giants Nike and Gap over sweat shop labour in third world countries continues to keep the human rights issues right in the public domain.
Ethical Investor Magazine Editor, Paddy Manning says the ‘deliberative poll’ is a timely and brave project.
Manning says there is a huge increase in interest in the issues surrounding responsible share ownership and broadcasting the debate on television has never been done before. Ethical Investor can be found at www.ethicalinvestor.com.au
To discuss supporting the “Shareholders Deliberate” contact Catherine Brown on 03 9481 5456 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org