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Ethical Man - Justin Rowlatt

Trouble and strife

  • Newsnight
  • 5 Feb 07, 04:07 PM

beemoney_203.jpgBy Bee Rowlatt, Ethical Wife

Back in November I invaded Justin’s blog with the news that he has a small share-holding in an oil company.

He said I should sort it out myself. So here I am in the heart of Newsnight, on a mission to do just that.

For the last week Rachel the producer and I have been out filming and interviewing people, on a voyage of discovery about ethical finance.

Basically we’re trying to figure out what to do with these shares. Justin has no idea what we’re up to – only that we are indeed up to something. (Poor Justin – not only being hounded at home but now in his very own office…)

Keeping the project secret is proving rather tricky – I’ve had to cover up my notes, hide my phone, and maintain a look of bland innocence every time he asks me about it.

Matt the cameraman has been sworn to secrecy, as he works for both “sides”. I’ve also subjected him to a few home-filming attacks posing awkward questions, when he least expected it.

To find out what happens to Justin’s shares tune in to see the film next week, and if you have any suggestions meanwhile then please share them here…

Comments  Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 06:01 PM on 05 Feb 2007,
  • Spartacus wrote:

I think he should keep the shares and campaign to change the oil company from within, as an ethical shareholder.

  • 2.
  • At 09:23 PM on 05 Feb 2007,
  • chris wrote:

Its all really rather silly.

  • 3.
  • At 11:03 AM on 06 Feb 2007,
  • Otis wrote:

I do hope we are not going to see any financial illteracy here.

The major investment in alternative fuels is going to come from the oil companies (as they already are - even they can see it's in their long term business interests). To do that they will need finance, one source of which is equity capital - shares!

  • 4.
  • At 06:48 PM on 07 Feb 2007,
  • Neil Spence wrote:

Oil companies shares are used as investments for many of our pensions. If they fail then arguably so do the value of our pensions.
How do we square this circle?
I recently attended a bio fuel demonstration and was surprised at how little involvement the large oil companies had with this type of alternative fuel.

  • 5.
  • At 07:17 PM on 07 Feb 2007,
  • Spartacus wrote:

Neil, BP have just announced $500m funding for an Energy Biosciences Institute.
http://www.wbcsd.org/plugins/DocSearch/details.asp?type=DocDet&ObjectId=MjI3MDM

The next week they revealed profits of $22bn in 2006, which puts the investment in perspective, but I think it's fair to say that they're getting involved.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/6333959.stm

  • 6.
  • At 10:32 PM on 07 Feb 2007,
  • Neil wrote:

They are getting involved in alternative fuels including bio but very slowly. From the seminars I've attended the technology is already there. It's more a question of building the new infra structure around it, which is costly.
I suspect that until their forced to do it either through government action or more likely rising petrol costs due to availability that we'll be stuck with the current status quo.
The current setup is just to profitable for them.

  • 7.
  • At 11:22 PM on 07 Feb 2007,
  • Matt wrote:

Two things.

One - on a scale of one to ten, how unethical are oil companies really? Given that they power a large chunk of our economy and provide the raw materials for countless consumer goods, and that their huge profits are offset by the huge risks they take on huge capex projects, is it really meaningful to make the easy generalisation that oil=bad?

To develop that point - other posters have cited biofuels as a 'good' thing. But biofuels are linked to massive soil degradation in the developed world and massive indigenous forest clearance in the developing world. Surely biofuels=good is a similarly facile generalisation?

Two - was this really a spontaneous intervention?

  • 8.
  • At 09:10 AM on 08 Feb 2007,
  • Spartacus wrote:

Neil, the technology for first generation biofuels is fairly advanced, but the future is thought to lie in second generation biofuels, which use all of the plant to make fuel. BP will probably focus on this:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/5353118.stm

Matt's right - it's not as simple as oil=bad, biofuel=good. Clearing forest and draining marshes for palm oil plantations is threatening an ecological disaster. If you think that biofuels are unconditionally a good thing then please read this article.
http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/01/30/business/biofuel.php

In the words of Friar Lawrence:

For naught so vile that on the earth doth live
But to the earth some special good doth give;
Nor aught so good but, strain'd from that fair use,
Revolts from true birth, stumbling on the abuse:
Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied;
And vice sometimes by action dignified.

  • 9.
  • At 11:21 AM on 08 Feb 2007,
  • Lisa Richards wrote:

I am very much looking forward to this program, as I think the ethics of investment and financial responsibility go hand in hand with living sustainably.

I hope that Mrs. Ethical looks at a reasonably broad spectrum of investment portfolios as there are many areas where investors can be tripped up by unethical corporate practices. The argument is really bigger than whether or not to hold shares in oil. For example, most portfolios are spread across a range of sectors that include resources such as oil and minerals, but also include banks, development and technology companies, which can all have a wide environmental and ethical impact.

The important thing is to maintain pressure on the corporations to behave responsibly, and if this is best done by being a shareholder, and if you are in the lucky position to buy a stakehold, then take responsibility for your investment.

Of course, if we could all learn to live with less stuff in the first place, then maybe we wouldn't have to worry about needing a lot to retire on!


  • 10.
  • At 11:23 AM on 08 Feb 2007,
  • Lisa Richards wrote:

I am very much looking forward to this program, as I think the ethics of investment and financial responsibility go hand in hand with living sustainably.

I hope that Mrs. Ethical looks at a reasonably broad spectrum of investment portfolios as there are many areas where investors can be tripped up by unethical corporate practices. The argument is really bigger than whether or not to hold shares in oil. For example, most portfolios are spread across a range of sectors that include resources such as oil and minerals, but also include banks, development and technology companies, which can all have a wide environmental and ethical impact.

The important thing is to maintain pressure on the corporations to behave responsibly, and if this is best done by being a shareholder, and if you are in the lucky position to buy a stakehold, then take responsibility for your investment.

Of course, if we could all learn to live with less stuff in the first place, then maybe we wouldn't have to worry about needing a lot to retire on!


  • 11.
  • At 09:08 AM on 10 Feb 2007,
  • Neil wrote:

Spartacus and Matt,

Friar Lawerance puts it very well and I wasn't suggesting that biofuel was the panacea for world energy.
It is though a proven fuel which if managed correctly does significantly reduce C02 emissions.
We can certainly be self sufficient in biofuel in Britain at a time when farmers would benefit from a new income source.
We need to encourage and develop international agreements with other countries who may develop unsustainably so as to avoid rain forest destruction. This requires taking a moral lead ourselves and supporting these countries to develop sustainably.
That been said to continue with oil and allow the mutli-nationals to develop alternatives as slowly as they are is clearly a recipe for disaster.
We and them need to start making the chnage now even when it will cost us more financially in the short term. Biofuels compared to Hydrogen Fuel Cells (require lots of electricity), Fusion (still developing) managed properly appears to me to be the way forward.

  • 12.
  • At 02:25 PM on 10 Feb 2007,
  • Neil wrote:

Please note that in my last post in relation to fusion I was referring to it's ability to produce clean electricity for hydrogen fuel cells.

  • 13.
  • At 02:40 PM on 10 Feb 2007,
  • pete wrote:

I have NEVER understood what is ethical in dis-investing. You stay involved and VOTE your shares. You become pension fund rep for your company & insist the 'pension fund' votes ethically (& that includes stopping the ludicrous levels of director enumeration).
You can't change anyone's opinions without talking to them.

  • 14.
  • At 12:50 PM on 12 Feb 2007,
  • Stephen wrote:


Unless your middle name happens to be Mercury Asset Management I doubt very much whether you will have any influence on a company's ethical strategy.Personally I find finance as interesting as counting sheep.If the footsie 100 is down does that mean its a bear market?

  • 15.
  • At 12:54 PM on 12 Feb 2007,
  • Stephen wrote:


Unless your middle name happens to be Mercury Asset Management I doubt very much whether you will have any influence on a company's ethical strategy.Personally I find finance as interesting as counting sheep.If the footsie 100 is down does that mean its a bear market?

  • 16.
  • At 12:58 PM on 12 Feb 2007,
  • Stephen wrote:


Unless your middle name happens to be Mercury Asset Management I doubt very much whether you will have any influence on a company's ethical strategy.Personally I find finance as interesting as counting sheep.If the footsie 100 is down does that mean its a bear market?

  • 17.
  • At 01:00 PM on 12 Feb 2007,
  • Stephen wrote:


Unless your middle name happens to be Mercury Asset Management I doubt very much whether you will have any influence on a company's ethical strategy.Personally I find finance as interesting as counting sheep.If the footsie 100 is down does that mean its a bear market?

  • 18.
  • At 01:54 PM on 12 Feb 2007,
  • Stephen wrote:


Unless your middle name happens to be Mercury Asset Management I doubt very much whether you can influence a company's investment strategy.But what do I know? I'm not even sure that when the Footsie 100 is down it's a bear market.

  • 19.
  • At 09:32 PM on 12 Feb 2007,
  • Neil wrote:

Stephen, I like it, Your vague unhelpful comments are very informative.

Unless you are saying that you think the oil industry shouldn't exist at all, I can't see how it is necessarily unethical to have shares in an oil company.

By all means boycott the worst oil company and buy from or invest in the best one, even if the best is still pretty bad.

But no oil at all would mean no ambulances or fire engines or food on the supermarket shelves. Surely that would be even more unethical.

Who is Spartacus?

How can you claim to make correct decisions when you rely on information that is plainly specious?

For example environmental group's claim that 'London uses the same amount of energy as the whole of Portugal or Greece' is misleading as both countries one have lower populations (11 and 10.5 million) than London (12 million), and are in warmer climes.

Using less energy per head in a colder climate is a good thing.

Did you see that an ethical investment fund lead the market in the 12 months until the end of january 2007. See http://www.naturalchoices.co.uk/CIS-Sustainable-Leaders-Trust-Out?id_mot=1

While of course there is no direct relationship between ethical and market leading it is interesting to see that niether is there a link between ethical investing and poor performance
Pete

  • 24.
  • At 06:23 PM on 05 Mar 2007,
  • Spartacus wrote:

I'm Spartacus!

Sorry Sara, I only just spotted your post. Assuming you weren't merely prompting a cheap gag; I'd rather not identify myself in an on-line forum (and risk lynching by an angry mob of green electricity company executives), but I'm happy to get in touch off-line if you can provide the means.

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