Cruelty-Free Investing

By Nancy Boardman

“Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last. Imagine that you are doing this but that it is essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature... in order to found that edifice on its unavenged tears. Would you consent to be the architect on’ those conditions? Tell me. Tell the truth.”

Ivan Karamazov to his brother Alyosha, in The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

At least once a year, my local humane society’s board of directors—of which I am a member—debates the issue of whether or not our investment portfolio should be “screened,” that is, reviewed using a set of criteria that would eliminate companies that are known to harm animals in the process of testing, manufacturing or marketing their products.

CRUELTY-FREE INVESTING: The (Mostly) Good News about Animal Testing

Last year, some 900 scientists from around the world met in Bologna, Italy, and formulated a plan that would drastically reduce the number of animals used in medical experiments, biology and veterinary classes, and cosmetics testing. In brief, the new plan, known as the Three Rs, involves:

Reduction—Devising new procedures that either do not require animals or, at the very least, use them more efficiently.

Refinement—Utilizing testing methods that alleviate or minimize pain and distress.

Replacement—Developing all-new forms of experimentation that do not use animals.

As developed by the Third World Congress on Alternatives to Animal Use in the Life Sciences, these strategies continue what is becoming a trend away from animal testing. Best Friends Magazine reported in its September/October 1999 issue that experimentation on animals has declined markedly in the last six years. “The use of both dogs and cats is down 61%, guinea pigs 33%, hamsters 52% and rabbits 31%.” However, the editors add, “The news isn’t so encouraging for primates: Experiments on them have risen, mostly due to HIV and AIDS research.”

Along with public distaste for animal testing, which is growing more broad-based as well as vocal, the decline in animal testing is being driven by rapid developments in medical technology, For example:

A University of Ottawa scientist has developed an artificial cornea. When the system is perfected, researchers may be able to make thousands of artificial corneas from a single donated human one. This will greatly shorten the time an eye patient must wait for a corneal donor, and will help limit—if not eliminate—the need for animal testing in many cosmetic and chemical sensitivity trials.

A Dutch pharmaceutical company has devised a latex rat for use in micro-surgical lab experiments that require dissection. The company hopes that these hi-tech faux rats will one day replace most of the living rats used in laboratories worldwide.

In this country, “Corrositex,” a new non-animal “skin” that’s endorsed by the National Institutes of Health, is being used to test the toxic effects on humans of corrosive substances. This will, it is hoped, greatly reduce the need to test such products on animal skin.

Under the direction of a Nobel Prize winner, scientists have developed a technological marvel called the ECIS 100 machine that can study the toxic effects of a variety of substances on cells without requiring any research on animals. Instead, an electronic bio-sensor measures the effects of the substance on a cell and checks the results four times per second through a sophisticated software program that runs on a standard Windows 98 computer. So far, say officials of the company that developed the machine, 20 have been sold, at a cost of about $40,000 each.

We are fortunate enough to have a larger endowment fund than many animal shelters, so we would be making an audible statement should we decide to divest ourselves of such stocks. On the other hand, like every other shelter, the cost of providing food, shelter, and medical care for the animals we help is on a steady uptrend. Thus, we need every penny we take in from our dividends if we are to keep our doors open to needy creatures.

That’s the economic side of the issue. The moral paradox is even more difficult. Is it ethical, some board members ask, for a “humane society” to at the least condone and at the most encourage the mistreatment of animals in the name of profits? How about in the name of progress? After all, every one of our beloved pets is the beneficiary of advances in veterinary medicine that caused discomfort, pain and even death to unnamed lab animals.

The National Anti-Vivisection Society has just published the 10th edition of “Personal Care for People Who Care.” This handy little book is a comprehensive guide to companies that do—and do not—test their end-products or ingredients on animals. It explains the various types of animal tests, what kinds of products are required by federal law to be tested on animals, which companies have stopped or decreased their reliance on animal testing, and the latest advances in testing alternatives.

The book also lists health-based charities that do and don’t fund animal-based research—an important consideration when you are choosing charities to donate to on a yearly basis or after your death.

“Personal Care for People Who Care” costs $9.50, and can be ordered from NAVS, National Headquarters, 53 West Jackson Blvd., Chicago, IL 60604-3703, or call 312-427-6065.

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, in Kanab, Utah, is a leader in the no-kill shelter movement, meaning that it eschews euthanasia in all but the most necessary cases. At any one time there are more than 1,000 abandoned, ill, difficult or otherwise “unadoptable” companion animals and livestock in its care. In order to carry out its mission, Best Friends has come up with some novel fund-raising strategies.

Recently it created, in tandem with First USA Bank, the Best Friends Credit Card. There is no cost to subscribers, and one half of one percent of the money spent on purchases using the card goes to Best Friends. For more information, call 435-644-2001 or write Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, Kanab, UT 84741.

For not much more than what you’d pay your local bank, you can now buy checks from a company called Message!Products in St. Paul, MN. Decorated with cute photos of animals, the checks feature the Fund for Animals logo and website address, and buying the checks generates a 10% royalty that’s paid directly to the Fund. The number to call for details in 1-800-243-2565.

Most shelter non-profit shelters, humane societies and other animal-welfare groups have planned giving programs in place that encourage donors to support them now or after their death by taking advantage of favorable tax laws. Talk to your attorney, accountant of the organization itself to find out more.

These are hard questions, and my shelter is not alone in perennially wrestling with them. In response to a myriad of ethical quandaries facing investors today, all sorts of specialized financial management firms, mutual funds and advisory services have sprung up. According to the Social Investment Forum, a nonprofit organization that reports on trends, in 1999 one out of every eight dollars under professional management in the United States was invested in firms considered socially and environmentally responsible. That’s a whopping $2.16 trillion or more than 13% of the $16.3 trillion total that’s in professionally managed accounts, and marks an 82% increase over 1997.

Socially responsible investing goes by many names—ethical investing, mission-based investing and socially aware investing, among them. But they all describe an approach to investing that melds social and environmental concerns investment decisions. It’s an increasingly acceptable way of putting your money where your heart is. Although most portfolio screens are used to avoid holdings based in tobacco (96%), gambling (86%), alcohol (83%) and weapons (81%), some 15% of assets are currently screened on animal-welfare issues.

Called cruelty-free investing, it’s now possible to shop for investments in companies that don’t harm animals, just as you can buy products that have been made without harming animals. The Cruelty-Free Investment News, an information service published by Business Analysis Group in Reston, VA, identifies three kinds of cruelty-free investors—those who boycott companies that hurt animals, those who invest only in companies that make a positive contribution to animal welfare, and those who invest in firms that currently violate animal rights and then use their power as shareholders to change those corporate policies (this last strategy is, admittedly, more effective as a means of making a point than of much else).

Just as cruelty-free investment strategies differ, so too do definitions of humane investment. Most investors and their investment advisors use animal testing as a basic criterion, or screen, but some differentiate between testing done by pharmaceutical companies (more justifiable) and that conducted by cosmetics firms (less acceptable). Other investors avoid companies that pollute or harm the environment in other ways, such as destroying wildlife habitats. Some boycott firms that make traps or hunting guns, while others refuse to invest in companies that profit from entertainment that exploits animals, such as circuses and rodeos.

Once you decide what your own criteria are, you can choose what kind of investment vehicle is best for your financial situation. Lots of people do their own research. First find a company that seems like a good investment regardless of its stance on humane issues. Get its annual report, and then look deeper via the Internet and the library. Call animal protection and environmental groups; they may already have information on this particular company, or can recommend others that they know are “cruelty-free.”

You can cut down your research time by using an investment advisor. Just be sure to be very clear with him or her about the criteria of your screen, and be aware that you’ll pay a fee for the service. There are even humane investment clubs where you can share the research—and the investment capital you want to put up—with like-minded folks.

Finally, you may want to explore some other options, notably the mutual funds that operate as cruelty-free. Among the more established ones are Rocky Mountain Humane Investing Corp. in Boulder, CO (1-800-962-1980), and the Cruelty Free Value Fund (1-800-892-9626), created by Beacon Global Advisors. A relatively new vehicle is The Humane Equity Fund, run by Salomon Brothers Asset Management, that pays the Humane Society of the United States as a consultant. HSUS assists in establishing screens that mirror the group’s own animal protection ethics, For more information, call 1-877-552-5420.

How about the cost of socially responsible investing? Are you going to make less money by being kind? So far, studies show you won’t. Assuming you and/or your investment counsel make basically sound financial choices, social screening is not a significant element of investment returns. In fact, some argue, companies that respect the environment have positive public images, which enhance investment in them, and avoid making the kinds of ecological mistakes that result in costly litigation.

Humane investing is really logical step in the direction of helping animals and their habitats. When you adopt from a shelter, you save one animal’s life. When you write to your state representatives or Congressmen about animal-related legislation, you help a particular group of animals. When you invest wisely, using animal-friendly criteria, the most immediate beneficiary will be yourself. But the benefits will be psychic as well as monetary, because you know that your dollars will not be promoting animal suffering on a widespread basis, just as you are free to spend some of that investment income helping animals close to your home and heart.

“And can you accept the idea that the men for whom you are building would agree to receive their happiness from the unatoned blood of a little victim? And accepting it would remain happy forever?”

To all of these questions, Alyosha replies “No.”

Before moving to Vermont, Nancy Boardman was a financial writer and editor in New York City. She now does freelance magazine writing, focusing on environmental, historical, and animal-welfare issues.

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