News for Science for Peace members

Armenian Earthquake Fund

Following an appeal to the Royal Society of Canada by a group of Fellows, the Society conveyed its condolences to the Academy of Sciences of the Armenian SSR over the recent earthquake and asked how it might aid in reconstruction activities. The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AVCC) has also asked the USSR Embassy how Canadian academics can help. Although Yerevan University was undamaged, a number of colleges were devastated. RSC and the AVCC support actions were taken in March. About $1000 was donated as a result of an appeal at the Science for Peace Board meeting of last December, this to go towards rehabilitation of scientific life in the devastated regions. Additional funds are sought, cheques to be forwarded to the Science for Peace Treasurer, made out to Science for Peace and marked “for Armenian Relief.” Among the uses of funds will be purchase in Canada of scientific equipment and exchange of relevant specialists. Please call the attention of your local colleagues to these needs and opportunities to help our colleagues in Armenia.

Science for Peace Members Honoured

George Ignatieff, Honorary President of Science for Peace, was recently elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. The citation for his induction on June 5 emphasized his activities for peace, including his role in Science for Peace.

Ursula Franklin, Emeritus Professor of Engineering, University of Toronto, has been named winner of the 1989 Wiegand Award. This annual award recognizes Canadians who have made outstanding contributions to our understanding of the human dimensions of science and technology. Professor Franklin, nominated by the Canadian Association for Women in Science, pioneered the use of microradiography to study microstructure of metals and alloys. She has studied ancient materials from various cultures discerning much about early techniques of metal-working and ceramic firing.

Looking for Social Investment

Science for Peace was represented at the first Canadian Social Investment Conference by a delegation of one. Here I come with my report. The conference took place in Toronto, drawing people from across Canada. The roughly two hundred participants were divided between students, interested parties with no specialized knowledge of investment, and specialists of all sorts. The conference consisted of warm-up speeches the evening of 12 May and a full day of plenaries and workshops on 13 May.

What should “social investment” mean, and what kinds of expertise have developed? First, if Science for Peace is administering an endowment and seeks to preserve its money and draw dividends or interest, many would feel it anomalous for our organization to buy stock in General Dynamics or Litton Industries; some of us would even be reluctant to deposit in a bank which stood ready to make short-term loans to contractors with General Dynamics. Many organizations with large funds to manage are way ahead of us in scrutinizing the moral acceptability of conventional financial deals. I was especially impressed by a long account by Dr. Bonnie Green, whose job with the United Church of Canada is research into the ethical consequences of possible investments by the Church. She does research, she doesn’t study the market—and she doesn’t make value decisions. Telling her organization the relation of a firm to weapons-making does not determine how it will react: there are many manufacturers of nominally defensive conventional weapons which she personally would avoid but which would not be objectionable to the Church’s policy-makers on the issue.

This issue is called “ethical investment”. Ought one to boycott GE stock? Ought one to buy GE stock and argue at shareholder’s meetings against the company’s concentration on weapons of annihilation? Let me quote one of many pointed remarks made at the conference. Eugene Ellman, author of “The 1989 Canadian Guide to Profitable Ethical Investing,” said the Exxon Valdez spill was without consequences for ethical investors: none of them would have though of putting their money in Exxon even before the spill!! Where then …?

Several specialties have arisen in response to the felt need for ethical investing. Specialists offer advice on asset management to individuals and organizations, either by writing like Ellmen, or by consulting for a fee like Janet Freedman. Some specialists will research a company’s ethical performance for you for a fee. Other specialists run mutual funds committed to stated standards (no companies selling tobacco, no polluters, no union-busters, no companies with operations in South Africa, …) so that by buying into the funds we may dispense with researching the ethicality of each corporation on the Exchange. Such funds are relatively new and small in Canada: there are five, only one of which has been underway more than three years. But they are thriving.

Alongside the “ethical” investment people are the “alternative” investment people. The overlap includes many people; but the concept of alternative investment is genuinely different. Rather than choosing among conventional investments, some say, why not invest in activities that the existing conventional corporations don’t carry on at all? So there is a second array of specialties: managers of workers’ co-ops, and consumers’ co-ops, and credit unions, specialists in seeking capital for co-ops and for needed low-cost housing, for new socially beneficial businesses and, specifically, for women-run or minority-run businesses.

Where shall I fit the credit unions into the picture? Structurally, they are alternative investment, being co-ops doing what the banks do, only more democratically. Some, especially Toronto’s Bread & Roses Credit Union, aim explicitly to provide venture capital to socially beneficial enterprises. But they may also practise ethical investment in stocks and bonds of major corporations; Vancouver City Savings Credit Union, in particular, sponsors the Ethical Growth Fund. Those of us who are members of credit unions might question them as to whether ethical criteria are applied in investing the money we deposit!

Can one get full banking service in a bank or credit union committed to social betterment? Yes, in Vancouver; not yet, in Toronto. Are there agencies which seek out and evaluate socially needed housing construction ventures and evaluate them for the ethical investor? Just getting started in Canada. Can one get a major credit card from an institution whose profits are designated at least in part to contributions to non-profit, socially beneficial uses? Yes, in the USA; not yet, in Canada.

This or any other summary of the panoply of specialists pursuing ethical and alternative investment must stipulate that each trade described has very few practitioners indeed. Most of the people, and most of the organizations, are just getting started. The potential impact of this work is positive—and large, given the large total of pension funds which might be directed ethically. (It is now legally “permissible” for pension fund managers to apply ethical tests; it remains for the managers to “decide” to do so. The specialists, potential investors, and capital-seekers in this market-withina-market seem to get along uncommonly well. Let us wish long life to the Canadian Social Investment Association, now in formation, which is intended to keep them in contact and pulling together.

Chandler Davis

Whole issue on one page | as PDF

ISSN 1925-170X (Print) | ISSN 1925-1718 (Online)