Any thoughts on the morality of buying shares in Unilever after the Ukrainian govt has called it a sponsor of Russian military aggression???
I’m in two minds: yes, U should not help (inadvertently) to pay for Putin’s war but on the other if moral purity is the test for owning shares then no one would be able to own shares in any major business.
I suppose it’s where you draw the line: if you have a conscience you have to draw the line somewhere. I think for me the line would be drawn at investing in a company that is selling sth horrendous (so not soap or ice cream) or directly paying for something horrendous (so tax money specifically earmarked for weapons used against civilians) rather than one that has no way to control the spending of tax payments to a govt, or of knowing on what that money will be spent.
What is more, where does that leave things like index funds that track multiple companies? Do you disinvest your entire stake because one company out of 50 or a 100 has become morally questionable? As I understand it, with things like index funds or ETFs it’s all or nothing. If so, you’d never make any money.
I try to leave these sorts of moral questions out of investing decisions as it’s all so subjective.
You can buy ESG/SRI trackers which omit tobacco, defence, alcohol firms etc but they’ll often contain other companies that run sweatshops in the Far East and so on. You could find ethical issues with just about any business if you look hard enough.
I’m investing to make money, not virtue signal. However, each to their own – if you don’t feel comfortable investing then don’t.
It’s a great question and really nicely put. I think the bottom line is that making a decision about investing just like anything else in life includes a moral element.
And you make these decisions based on what you know. Im not saying here that lack of knowledge absolves us when we invest in a company that is morally spurious but what I am saying is that morality does not work like a switch. It is very easy to be scared off by the activity of moral reasoning because most of what learn about re morality involves concepts like heaven and hell.
Again, like all things in life we can build on our moral reasoning through discussion, learning and collective agreement and that includes investing. Your point about unilever is one such example.
I agree that the concept of virtue signalling is a non starter really. You cannot build a moral argument based on what others value by appearance. This does not mean that moral decisions are subjective it just means that moral principles are resolved through a process of reasoning.
Effectively, the more you learn about stocks, etfs and etc., the more prepared you are to understand if you need to make a moral decision.
And this highlights the final point. Moral reasoning is never easy and it takes time, and who has that at the moment!
It puts the investor in a moral dilemma, but I imagine it’s also a very tricky situation for the company itself to navigate around.
If they completely pull out of Russia, what does that look like? What happens to the business in Russia, and the people employed by it? If the company is expropriated, will that mean its taxes AND its profits are channelled into Russia’s military?
There’s never an easy decision, but as an investor if you back the company you’re relying on its leadership to make the best decisions they can with the information available to them (and I’m sure they have a lot more information about the situation than many of its investors, myself included).
Unilever is not a perfect company, but it’s not operating in a perfect world…
Interestingly, ULVR came under fire last year for it’s ‘fixation’ on sustainability. As Terry Smith put it, referring to the Hellman’s food waste campaign: “A company which feels it has to define the purpose of mayonnaise has clearly lost the plot.”
I disagree on this point generally, just because costly virtue signals can be very useful.
I do tend to agree with the point as it relates to investing/Unilever though because I don’t think there is much personal cost to avoiding a few companies, especially as part of an index and I don’t think avoiding them is very impactful.
My initial responce to this moral question is that I can leave all morals out of the equation and as long as the business makes money for me I am good.
There is however 1 exception that I will not budge from, any investment into Manchester United PLC. Whether the current ownership uses this money to invest in their team or not is a risk I am not willing to take and I in good conscience do not want to fund a bitter rival. This is a hill I am willing to die on.
If you’re concerned about Russia now, it’s worth asking why you weren’t and aren’t concerned about other counties like China who are involved in the genocide of certain Chinese ethnic groups. And if you’re going to uninvest in Russia will you apply this logic equally in all areas?
Which will inevitably result in having very few options to invest.
None of us seem to care until it gets a little to close to home
I think it is a stretch to assume that discussing Russia’s recent murderous intent means that they are not concerned about Uyghur muslims. By dint of that, talking about China doesnt mean I think you dont care about Syria, Rwanda or Sudan.
And naturally, you would care more if a conflict is in or close to your home.
That’s the point. I’m sure people care about these things. But the question on investment has only recently come up as it’s being pushed by the news and other sources.
If the question is should we invest in counties committing these types of crimes and the answer is no. Then the result isn’t to stop investing in companies in Russia, but in all companies with investments in any of these countries.
Otherwise the choice to not invest in for example Russia in this instance isn’t about ethical investment, but about applying political pressure. Which is equally fine if that what you want to do, but it isn’t related to ethical or moral considerations
I think my conclusion is that absolute moral purity is too high a bar to reach before investing; it’s so high it would make investing impossible (& therefore probably capitalism itself - and who wants to live under some sort of Soviet system? Not me).
I think for practical reasons the bar has to be lower - how low or high that bar is set is for individuals to decide. As it is, my bar isn’t set so high I’m not going to buy shares in Unilever - at least not until if and when Unilever starts selling missiles to Russia in which case I probably would (which seems unlikely…).
I think a greater concern I have are the Woke loose cannons rolling around various corporate decks - is Unilever about to make a decision as crazy as Anheuser-Busch? If so, I’d like to know in advance so that I can get my cash out first.
Worth a thought I actually think it’s fine to not invest for political reasons. Since people can invest or not for any reason they like. I personally just think choices to not invest in Russia are more political than moral given the locality of those kind of decisions
I think you have to stretch the limits of rational thinking to say that there is ‘no morality in capitalism’.
Capitalism can give individual and collective freedom which you can say is good. But it can also impinge on other’s freedom, but neither of these examples serves as preconditions. In order to say capitalism is amoral, you have to be able to show that not good has come from capitilism.
Part of the challenge in this thread that has and will continue to cause consternation is the idea implied in our discussion that morality is already understood. But it really isnt. No one (myself included) has attempted to describe morality before answering the question. The argument about the nuances of morality are not fixed and are ongoing.
People can do as they please with their money, and just because Russia happens to be this years global ‘baddie’, it doesnt mean people should be pressured to not invest in companies operating within it.
Lots of horrible things happen across the globe. I think we, the West, get moralistic when it suits our geopolitical agendas, but turn away when it is us perpetuating something horrible. Where were the calls to stop the Saudis buying much of the UK, whilst at the same time we were selling them missiles to be used in Yemen?
Morality doesnt really come into it, except of course if a company puts itself at risk, i.e. Anheuser-Busch jumping on the trans bandwagon. If you believe Unilever operating in Russia is a potential risk to the company being slapped down by regulators or sanctioned by the West, then thats a different story.