It is time that institutions of higher calling – universities and places of worship – use their financial resources in a manner consistent with their values.
Would the endowment of any major university invest in pornographic films protected by the First Amendment and thus fully legal? Unlikely on grounds that such a use of resources would be morally repugnant. Should not gross violations of human dignity and rights, environmentally irresponsible behavior, and creating weapons of mass destruction be similarly repugnant? We call upon all universities to become responsible investors.
Georgetown University’s investment policy includes restraint in investing in enterprises that “are substantially involved in abortion services or that have demonstrated records of widespread violations of human dignity.” Included in endeavors that violate human dignity are “companies that are directly and significantly involved in the production of weapons that are intended to be used for indiscriminate destruction and companies that are engaged in activities having an extremely deleterious effect on the environment.” It is assumed herein that this would include nuclear weapons. However, this could be challenged on the grounds that the intended use of such weapons discriminates lawfully in targeting only military targets although the weapons do in fact have an indiscriminate impact on civilian populations. This fallacious argument should be forcefully rejected by the university and it is presumed that it is. Otherwise this language is without practical ethical substance. On the clearly positive side the investment policy will “consider impact investments in sectors that include energy, energy efficiency, healthcare, financial inclusion, education enhancing technologies and sustainable agriculture.”
Presuming the reasonable interpretation that nuclear weapons are indeed prohibited it is suggested that the policy of Georgetown University should be advanced nationally and adopted by all institutions of higher learning and religious institutions as well. In addition, another comprehensive investment plan of a nation, Norway, that has successfully performed in the market for decades is worthy of serious attention.
The Norwegian Example
Norway received a windfall of profits from fossil fuels and decided that it should not squander the money but invest it for future generations. The fund is now is excess of $750 Billion and is the largest sovereign wealth fund in Europe. It is an example of being wise, doing good, and doing well.
In the autumn of 2002, the Government appointed a committee to propose ethical guidelines for the Government Petroleum Fund. As the Graver fund reports: The ethical guidelines for the Government Petroleum Fund are based on two premises: “The Government Petroleum Fund is an instrument for ensuring that a reasonable portion of the country’s petroleum wealth should benefit future generations. The financial wealth must be managed with a view to generating a sound return in the long term, which is contingent on sustainable development in the economic, environmental and social sense. The Fund’s financial interests should be consolidated by using the Fund’s ownership interests to promote sustainable development. The Government Petroleum Fund should not make investments which constitute an unacceptable risk that the Fund may contribute to unethical acts or omissions, such as violations of fundamental humanitarian principles, serious violations of human rights, gross corruption or severe environmental degradation.”
Accordingly, the Fund implemented the following mechanisms to implement the Ethical Guidelines:
• Exercise of ownership rights in order to promote long-term financial returns based on the UN’s Global Compact and the OECD Guidelines for Corporate Governance and for Multinational Enterprises. • Negative screening of companies from the investment universe that either themselves, or through entities they control, produce weapons that through normal use may violate fundamental humanitarian principles. • Exclusion of companies from the investment universe where there may be an unacceptable risk of contributing to: • Serious or systematic human rights violations, such as murder, torture, deprivation of liberty, forced labor, the worst forms of child labor and other child exploitation • Grave breaches of individual rights in situations of war or conflict Severe environmental degradation • Gross corruption • Other particularly serious violations of fundamental ethical norms • The moral underpinnings of such an initiative are well-established.
The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its Parliament are proud of this project. They should be. It is an inspiration for those who care about a sustainable future.
A summary of the Guidelines and Mechanism implemented by the Norwegian Government: https://www.regjeringen.no/en/dep/fin/Selected-topics/the-governmentpension-fund/responsible-investments/The-Graver-Committee—documents/The-Graver-Committee-and-Ethical-Guideli.html? id=434926# Longer version of the Norwegian Government’s White Paper outlining the guidelines: https://www.regjeringen.no/en/dep/fin/Selected-topics/the-government-pensionfund/responsible-investments/The-Graver-Committee—documents/Report-on-ethicalguidelines. html? id=420232
What We Should Do
There are many people who are passionate about protecting the environment, people, and rights and obtain health, security and ensure freedom. When our energies are unified and amplified we will change the political dialogue to a new set of realistic values and thus policies consistent with a sustainable future. We need examples of practices that can succeed in giving people back a sense of empowerment. Cynicism and apathy are dangerous but activism and success enlivens the spirit.
It is inspirational that a secular state, Norway, has advanced the moral imperative of sustainability in the interest of this and future generations. For those who believe that obligations to honor the creation arise from duties toward the Creator or a sense of responsibility to future generations what Norway has done is inspirational.
Institutions with a moral mandate, especially educational and religions institutions, can be persuaded to bring their values and investment policies into coherence. Investments in companies that benefit from environmental degradation and weapons of indiscriminate effect can be moved into industries aligned with enterprises that advance sustainable practices, or at least do no harm.
An advocacy project on responsible investing will charge the debate and give people in these institutions a proper sense of their moral agency.
This will also help fuel better industries. We can stimulate and facilitate a responsible investment for a sustainable future campaign in educational and religious institutions. This will stimulate engagement of millions of individuals worldwide and raise awareness considerably.
The Norwegian pension fund, or possibly Georgetown University, can serve as an example for rational and economically successful guidelines, The campaign will put forward the proposition that morally founded institutions must not invest in such a manner as to encourage activities which are against sustainability. It will advance the idea that we have duties to future generations and that environmentally irresponsible practices and the use of weapons of indiscriminate effect (land mines, cluster munitions, nuclear, biological and chemical weapons) are morally and practically unsustainable.
There is already a widely recognized movement to advance environmentally sustainable business practices and, as the Norwegians have so insightfully pointed out, there is a relationship in values and practice to the growing movement to eliminate weapons of indiscriminate effect, especially nuclear weapons.
We must now put into place legal, verifiable, and enforceable mechanisms based on our shared moral values to outlaw all weapons of indiscriminate effect. Chemical and biological weapons have been so classified, and nuclear weapons must become so. Raising public awareness by advocacy for practical change will help. Causing millions to take a position and engage will stimulate such awareness.
Destroying the very climate of the planet through greed cannot be justified by any morally based institution and their investments should reflect this truth. Threatening to destroy civilization through the use of nuclear weapons is an immoral, irrational, illegal, and expensive pursuit unworthy of civilization. It is folly to think that by accident, madness or design the weapons will not ever be used.
A morally-based investment campaign will raise consciousness and be of benefit to socially responsible financial institutions as well. It will amplify the engagement of citizens in the security debate.
A campaign beginning in this venerable institution could stimulate national advocacy that would bring natural alliances into being based on the principle that investments should be consistent with aspirations for a sustainable future.
Some Notes on a Campaign for Responsible Investing in a Sustainable Future
Goal: Empower youth and members of faith based communities world wide to express themselves on the core existential threats that challenge humanity beginning with such institutions in the New York and Pennsylvania.
1. Ennui, frustration, ignorance, cynicism, and apathy in sectors of the population that could be inspired, active, moral voices for reason if they had the capacity to express their values on issues.
2. Directing capital to worthwhile businesses
Presently, intelligent people, especially young people and especially in the USA, are increasingly frustrated by the deluge of information on the destruction of the global commons — the living systems upon which civilization depends such as the oceans, the rainforests, and the climate – the increasing divide between rich and poor, and the horrific threat nuclear weapons pose to civilization.
These issues are large and complex and require new levels of global governmental cooperation. Individuals feel powerless when they think about them. We aim to help change this.
After President Obama’s inability to deliver on his promises to adequately address the real threats posed by nuclear weapons and President Trump’s utter disregard for the sanctity and value of international law and treaties, the tools through which nations govern civilized communications, cynicism is growing in the USA and elsewhere. Such an attitude is very dangerous. There is no cynicism in the hearts of those who believe that weapons, war, power, and wealth are to be pursued without restraint, even if only for their short-term interests. They argue that such activity is natural and good. They are rendering the future unsustainable. They believe strongly in what they are doing and they are doing it powerfully. We cannot let them prevail.
When people have an ability to express their higher values, when they have moral agency, they learn, they act, they create, and they change the world.
This campaign is designed to stimulate that process.
Description of Campaign:
Private universities and colleges are home to millions of young people and have billions of dollars in assets in pension funds, endowments, and other financial vehicles. Religious institutions similarly steward large assets. These institutions base their legitimacy on moral messages. Their financial practices should support sustainability. They should not invest in activities that are adverse to a healthy environment, violate human rights, or benefit from producing weapons of indiscriminate effect – landmines, cluster munitions, chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.
We believe that the stakeholders in these institutions can be inspired to cause responsible investing if informed and organized. We believe that the Pension Fund of Norway, now the largest sovereign wealth fund in Europe, is a fine example of such an investment policy.
Organizing at one prominent university effectively will serve as an example and inspire others to adopt these suggested investment guidelines and stimulate wide spread student involvement in the process.
The Norwegian Divestment Campaign:
A summary of the Guidelines and Mechanism implemented by the Norwegian Government: https://www.regjeringen.no/en/dep/fin/Selected-topics/the-government-pension-fund/responsible-investments/The-Graver-Committee“>https://www.regjeringen.no/en/dep/fin/Selected-topics/the-government-pension-fund/responsible-investments/The-Graver-Committee—documents/The-Graver-Committee-and-Ethical-Guideli.html?id=434926#
Longer version of the Norwegian Government’s White Paper outlining the guidelines:
Jonathan Granoff is the President of the Global Security Institute, a representative to United Nations of the World Summits of Nobel Peace Laureates, a former Adjunct Professor of International Law at Widener University School of Law, and Senior Advisor to the Committee on National Security American Bar Association International Law Section.