The World is Not Enough - Calling for a More Ethical Approach to Personal Finance

At a time when the entire world's attention is focused on the problems of world debt, with the Live 8 concerts, the G8 summit in Scotland, the Make Poverty History Campaign (MPH) and the various anti-poverty marches, it seems that everyone wants the world's governments to behave more ethically towards the manner in which international finance is conducted. This is obviously a laudable attitude to take, and has gained immense momentum with such a groundswell of public opinion that even the UK Chancellor, Gordon Brown, has stated he is planning to participate in the Make Poverty History demonstration in Edinburgh during the G8 summit.

Mr Brown has urged world leaders to follow up their decision on debt cancellation for the poorest countries with a doubling of aid and fairer trade rules.

The Chancellor said, "This is a day for the people not for politicians. It is the people's voice that must be heard."

Whilst the support from such a prominent member of the British cabinet with his accompanying statements that the world was "angry" and "outraged" over the poverty in Africa, which has continued despite repeated past pledges from the richer nations, has been welcomed by many who believe that the various organised events could have an influence on the leaders who attended the summit, others see his words as hypocrisy.

Human rights lawyer, Aamar Anwar, said "Mr Brown, along with Tony Blair and George Bush, are the people who are responsible for poverty and starvation around the world?The G8 is proposing spending £30bn on the alleviation of poverty?It sounds like a lot but it is absolute peanuts when it is compared to the £280bn that was made available for the war in Iraq."

The trouble is that although there has been much talking and finger pointing at the rich and powerful Governments of the world, with claims that the way they are running international finances does not stand up to moral scrutiny, how many people can genuinely look at their own finances and state that they themselves are doing everything they can to help, and that they are ethically above reproach? Does their bank or building society lend their savings to companies who are involved in activities that can range from weapons manufacturing, gambling, pornography, tobacco, scientific animal testing to child labour, or do they instead direct their investment towards activities which have a positive social and/or ecological impact?

Most people do not think about where their money is being invested, when they pay into a mortgage, pension or savings account, they just think about the return they will get on their money. This does appear to be changing however.

Following consultation with its members, the Co-operative Insurance Society, which has more than £20 billion of funds under management, has become the first insurer to launch an ethical engagement policy and said it would lobby businesses at every opportunity to improve their ethical performances. The Co-op already tries to ensure ethical compliance by making new business customers fill out an Ethical Policies questionnaire, which is assessed by the bank before agreeing to provide business services. Financial comparison sites such as Moneynet are now releasing guides providing information on ethical investment covering all aspects of personal finance from bank accounts, investments and pensions to choices of domestic energy providers.

Other organisations such as the Ethical Investment Research Service have been set up to provide information into companies' ethical behaviour for independent investors, fund managers and charities alike.

The world is gradually waking up to the idea that responsibility needs to be taken for our actions, whether those actions are at the global, national or individual level. Lobbying of politicians and the interest that has been engendered by the Live 8, and MPH campaigns can help to make a change, but these need to be continued beyond the present media furore if we are to make a real change. An ethically responsible nation is only possible if we also make changes on our own doorstep. Until we really get our personal finance into perspective, the MPH becomes just another fashion label.

Richard works in Edinburgh for Bigmouthmedia, occasionally writing for the personal finance blog Cashzilla, and drinking too much coffee.

Additional References:
The Make Poverty History Campaign
Moneynet Ethical Investment Guide

In The News:

Reassessing Personal Finances  The New York Times
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