Friday, August 17, 2007

Ethical World Trust

Last night Australian Ethical Investment launched its "World Trust" in Canberra. This is for long-term investments in overseas companies which meet environmental and ethical guidelines. This is available to individuals to invest in directly, as a superannuation fund and via employer's superannuation guarantee payments.

Some of the companies they have invested in are the Shimano (bicycle gears, Japan), Herman Miller (Office Furniture, USA), Accell (Bicycles including electric bicycles, Netherlands), Suntech (solar cells, China). Perhaps they need to invest in some open source hardware and software companies.

One worry I had about the trust is that most of the investments so far are in the developed world (North America, UK, Europe and Japan). I don't know if it is that AEI can't find profitable investments elsewhere, or can't find ones meeting their high ethical standards, or there just isn't enough economic activity elsewhere to make it worth investing.

But the major problem with AEI's trusts, including the world trust, is that it is so hard to invest. AEI go to a lot of trouble to select ethical investments and communicate that to the potential investor. But when it comes time to invest they make you fill out a lot of paperwork, (you can't apply online) and discourage electronic payments. AEI now now have BPAY for investments, but not for superannuation and you have to apply on paper and get a number on paper before you can use it. AEI needs to invest a little in being able to take payments online easily. The investment would pay off within a few weeks.

The AEI people genuinely believe in what they are doing and recently refurbished their building to make it energy and water efficient. There will be tours of the building and seminars about it during September and a talk on the technological aspects in October.

ps: I own shares in AEI and have money in their Australian Ethical Retail Superannuation Fund.

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