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NACTs leave ethical investment to ‘the market’

Written By: - Date published: 9:36 am, August 5th, 2010 - 38 comments
Categories: labour, national - Tags: , , ,

Labour MP Grant Robertson’s Ethical Investment Bill came up before Parliament last night. It would have required the government to set some clear and consistent ethical criteria for investments in funds like the Super Fund and ACC.

The criteria were pretty uncontroversial. You know, things like good governance, decent labour and environmental standards, not enslaving native peoples – just the basic standards of decency we should should expect in a civilised society.

Unsurprisingly then, National and ACT voted the bill down. According to Grant it was the usual faith-based reasoning:

The opposition was based on the fact that some good progress has been made in ethical investment policies and that ‘the market’ would deal with the issues.

You can imagine what these people would have said about slavery at the time of the Civil War.

The fact is the market is the problem here. By its very nature it provides a competitive advantage to businesses willing to use exploitative labour practices, cut corners on environmental standards or commit human rights abuses. When it comes to ethical standards, the free market is a race to the bottom.

That’s why we have laws regulating the market – so that economic players aren’t rewarded for unethical behaviour or driven out of business if they decide to do the right thing. Basic stuff, but it goes right over the heads of National and ACT.

Good on you anyway Grant for standing up for human decency. Let’s make sure this bill becomes law under the next Labour-led government.

38 comments on “NACTs leave ethical investment to ‘the market’ ”

  1. MTWellington 1

    Disappointing but predictable result.

    One thing to consider: the reality of the “market” is that a vast majority of business is engaged in unethical conduct. Had the Bill passed, the Super Fund et al may have had to reconsider virtually its entire investment portfolio. Think about all the leading global “blue chip” stocks – Big Oil, Big Pharma, Industrial/Military suppliers, etc – presumably these are all “good” investments, but ethical?

  2. Bill 2

    Ethical speculating. Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?

    Less unethical speculation might be a more appropriate label or term to use.

    Let’s say that Robertson’s bill had passed and eventually become a piece of legislation. Here’s my question.

    Workers are in constant struggle with employers over how gross profit should be divided. Simplifying slightly, employers want net profit. Workers want wages.

    But if we are investing in the future net profits of employers it means that we have become instruments in the exploitation of ourselves.

    Why would we do this again? Because capitalism or it’s handmaiden the state, has said that it cannot or will not hold up its side of the deal?

    The deal was that wage slavery, unlike plain slavery had an end point that was arrived at when freedom (ie retirement) had been bought or earned through the years spent in a job.

    If you and I had an agreement, tacit or otherwise, and I made it clear that I would not or could not hold up my end of the deal, you would not pile onerous conditions on your own head to facilitate my reneging on the deal, would you?

    So again, why are we tying our future welfare and well being to the success of our ongoing exploitation?

  3. prism 3

    Well the Bill would have dealt with the more egregious examples and would have given a ‘signal to the market’. Now whether they see the signal or not, they can choose to ignore it.

    Will we hear more of the ‘restraint of trade’ arguments being used by these usurious money kings and their would-be if could-bes amongst the numerous small business owners. All the way back to sweatshops in about a century of progress, that turned out to be a ring road, not a high-way.

  4. insider 4

    If it was made law, who would police it and how?

    How would you define things like ‘good governance’, ‘decent labour and environmental standards’, and who would interpret whether an overseas organisation is meeting them and how would they go about doing that? Through glossy corporate citizenship reports? Would BP have passed the test six months ago or today?

    Couldn’t this just be a charter for any idiot with a political axe to grind to pursue trivial actions against fund managers, and so increase the level of uncertainty around saving and investing? I thought we wanted more people investing and saving in funds.

    The overall objective might be fine in the abstract, but putting it into law is a whole lot harder.

    • Jenny 4.1

      Gee whiz Insider, God forbid any attempt to reign in the powers of the free market.

      Let us poo poo any attempt, with faint praise as you have:

      The overall objective might be fine in the abstract, but putting it into law is a whole lot harder.

      Too right. It is a lot harder, see how the US banksters fight against any sort of workable oversight, or regulation:

      From Jim Hightower at Common Dreams on Bad Banks:

      US Banksters fight regulation

      capcha – motion

      • insider 4.1.1

        Jenny

        How woudl this rein anything in if its concepts can’t be formed into a workable law? It just appears to be a series of vision statements.

        • prism 4.1.1.1

          If you are an Insider with complete knowledge, then you would know how ethical investing is already being carried out by some investors. I’m not sure just how they do it, I think by dropping more disgraceful ones on human rights bases such as below poverty line or no wages etc.

          Could you advise what you know Insider as I should be better informed about this. If you yourself don’t know then you too should inform yourself better.

          • insider 4.1.1.1.1

            If you don’t know the difference in complexity between self imposed standards by an individual or organisation and writing a law that affects all investments in a whole nation, then I advise you to use your many facets and focus the beam of your thoughts to the subject. Even you should be able to recognise that the two approaches may not be easily interchangeable.

    • bbfloyd 4.2

      insider.. as usual, the only arguements? put up by the right wing naysayers is nothing more than a collection of short sighted, facile assumptions. have you never heard of “select committees”?. new legislation normally have to go through three stages of scrutiny before being passed into law. nationals misuse of urgency in order to bypass that process does not give carte blanche to make generalisations based on nothing more than partisan political bigotry.

      • insider 4.2.1

        No you miss the point, and are you really saying politicians have never passed an unambiguous law? You might want to check the commercial listings at your local high court if you believe that.

        The point is that you are asking for a bunch of very nebulous ideals to be enshrined into law and that is really really hard to manage. Think about the angst the lack of definition of the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi in legislation caused, then multiply that because you are going to have to apply a number of such ill defined phrases across a range of areas and to every single investment decision any NZ organisation makes anywhere.

        It;s a charter for activists and sharp lawyers to paly the system IMO which will achieve very little because investment funds will probably shrug their shoulders and move funds offshore. Or it will be so watered down that almost anything with a veneer of respectability would pass.

        Simple question: Would BP be an appropriate investment now? What about six months ago?

    • Bill 4.3

      Insider does have a point.

      It may be all very well procuring a fig leaf for the worse excesses of market capitalism. But applying it is problematic in the extreme.

      It’s like saying that workers investing/speculating on the future success of their exploiters is okay ( I don’t think it is) but that you’d like everybody to ‘play nice’ where ‘playing nice’ involves everyone agreeing to guidelines built around amorphous and utterly subjective words like ‘good’ and ‘decent’.

      I never have understood why there are liberals who seek to wrap around and mask the utter horrors and cruelty of capital and markets with nice sounding, fluffy and always inevitably ineffective legislation.

      Wrapping dog shit in chocolate bar packaging does not change the fundamental reality of the dog shit, does it? So why attempt to wrap human decency around market capitalism. Who gains from such an exercise of dishonesty?

  5. zimmer 5

    I am sick of being a slave.

    I am a slave to paying for social welfare for people who think the state owe them a living, this includes wankers using credit cards as if it were their own thru my taxes as well.

    Release me from this hell.

    • Lanthanide 5.1

      If you don’t like living in a civilised society, go live out in the bush somewhere, subsistance farm and declare no income that requires taxation.

      If, instead, you would prefer to live in civilisation with nice things like electricity, roads and police, then you must pay tax to help the upkeep of the civilisation. Pretty simple choice.

      • tsmithfield 5.1.1

        “If, instead, you would prefer to live in civilisation with nice things like electricity, roads and police, then you must pay tax to help the upkeep of the civilisation.”

        I think Zimmer would agree with you on this point. And that was not his complaint.

        • felix 5.1.1.1

          If zimmer wants to pay tax only to fund things he personally finds valuable, then he is actually talking about opting out of this society.

          If he still wants everyone to pay taxes but he wants to determine what the revenue can and can’t be spent on according to his own preference then he’s talking about setting up his own dictatorship.

          Perhaps you’d like to fuck off there with him.

          • tsmithfield 5.1.1.1.1

            Read what I said carefully before you make a stupid comment that completely misses the point.

            • felix 5.1.1.1.1.1

              Oh sorry, I didn’t realise we have to stop thinking on receipt of your analysis.

              Will that be one of the rules in the new state?

              • tsmithfield

                No. The rule is that you start thinking before typing a response that would embarrass a monkey on a typewriter.

                • felix

                  Fuck off troll, you don’t make rules anywhere.

                  • tsmithfield

                    You are the one who said I was making rules. I just corrected you. Stop complaining when people decide to play you at your own stupid game.

                  • tsmithfield

                    Pity. I actually thought you were capable of an intelligent response. You have been very disappointing lately. Read your own posts. I am sure you would agree.

    • Jenny 5.2

      Twits like Zimmer moaning about the cost of social welfare are very quiet when billions are syphoned off into corporate welfare.

      From the US:

      Just recently, we learned from Kenneth Feinberg, the government’s special investigator of banker pay, that top executives of 17 financial giants shoveled $1.6 billion in excess compensation to themselves in 2008 — at the very moment their failing banks began to draw billions of bailout dollars from us taxpayers. Among the pranksters pocketing eye-popping amounts were the high-rolling bank bosses at American Express, Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, PNC and Wells Fargo.

      Though the level of bailouts has as not yet reached the same astronomical levels here.

      In this country billions are being made from financial trading and speculation by the mostly Australian Banksters who dominate this trade. This tidal wave stream of cash flowing to these Banksters is completely untaxed, while the average citizen is being stung with a big increase in GST on their basics.

    • prism 5.3

      You could go to heaven zimmer and harp on about everything in the clouds.

  6. kenny 6

    Zimmer, (and all you other wingnuts out there who are forever whingeing and whining about paying taxes, no matter how small)

    Why don’t you bugger off to somewhere like Bolivia or Haiti where you may feel more at home.

  7. roger nome 7

    I wish the market would allocate these idiots an invisible fist full of sock-in-mouth.

  8. Rosy 8

    ooh I don’t think they’d feel at home in Bolivia, not with Morales talking about re-nationalising things… perhaps you meant Colombia?

  9. randal 9

    like free ponzi schemes etc with no comebacks?

  10. Bunji 10

    How does “the market” deal with issues like these? If it is to work it has to be through people choosing not to invest in unethical companies, due to their lack of ethics. Ergo if capitalism is to be able to achieve the social outcomes National purport to agree with they need to adopt something like Grant’s bill. Otherwise you have a choice between capitalism being evil (or should that be dogshit Bill?) and overthrowing it.

    Superfunds are the largest part of the market, so if they’re not going to behave ethically and shape the market, who do they think will?

    • Bill 10.1

      Evil dog shit? Pure dog shit evil? And all being reduced to stinking dust on a baking hot summers day and picked up by that gentle breeze that’s wafting your way?

      All that aside, there is a cart and horse issue here where you ask, “if (superfunds) are not going to behave ethically and shape the market, who do they think will?”

      The market shapes the behaviour of the investment funds. Not ever the other way around.

      And if legislation was passed to compel more ethical investment, the market would seek to subvert and render useless any such legislation.

      We know this. Why pretend otherwise?

      From environmental legislation to financial legislation to employment legislation and everything between, the market works to circumvent any barriers to it achieving maximum returns.

      And we know that when it crashes it only seeks legislation insofar as that legislation will prop it up and set it off again.

  11. jbanks 11

    “How does “the market’ deal with issues like these?”

    If these is a choice between ethical and unethical companies then it’s pretty straightforward. But because the average consumer doesn’t give a shit past the price of a product, then the unethical company with lower costs wins.

    The NZ govt. can’t legislate how overseas companies should behave in 3rd world countries, and even well intended effort can make things worse.

    http://offsettingbehaviour.blogspot.com/2009/05/sweatshops.html link pinched from banana topic

  12. Kleefer 12

    It’s interesting you bring up the “government saved America from slavery” argument because at the time of the Civil War slavery was already steadily being made obsolete by the increases in productivity driven by, yes, the “free market” that you so despise.

    A paid worker is more productive than a slave and there’s the bonus of not having to pay for guards to keep them from escaping. Also, relying on slave labour results in less investment in labour-saving capital goods meaning slave-driven economies eventually end up much poorer than their market-driven counterparts.

    In other words, your argument about the free market being a “race to the bottom” is absurd. In the real world the free market increases living standards and, contrary to what you claim, the free market is good for the environment. This is because wasting resources costs money and reduces profit.

    • Jenny 12.1

      Kleefer, your argument rather defeats itself. Paid workers are favoured over slaves because they are actually cheaper.

      Paid workers are pitted against each other in the competition for jobs.

      Whereas those working under the condition of slavery form a natural common cause with each other.

      Rebellion doesn’t need organisation and is often spontaneous and devastating.

      Whereas paid workers need formally organised methods of overcoming the natural tendency of paid workers to compete with each other.

      The cost of housing feeding and educating paid workers is not directly at the owners expense.

      In it’s extreme forms found in third world countries or totalitarian regimes like China, wage slavery is often worse than direct slavery.

      At least a slave is guaranteed a roof over his head and a meal at the end of the day.

      Not so the wage slave.

      In a country without a social welfare system, where unions are suppressed, for an unemployed wage slave, death from starvation and want is a very real probability.

      The Free Market is always in a race to the bottom and is only by difficult struggle against stiff opposition from supporters of the ‘Free Market’ that wage workers have gained a social safety net and minimum wage laws.

    • Draco T Bastard 12.2

      …the free market is good for the environment. This is because wasting resources costs money and reduces profit.

      The free-market is based around the concept of supply and demand. It, in theory, goes something like this:

      1.) Low supply + demand = high prices and profit
      2.) The high prices and profit pushes up supply (in real terms more resources are used) which brings down prices and profit
      3.) The two will (supposedly) eventually find equilibrium.

      This is, of course, complete bollocks because of one necessity of the capitalist free-market – growth. Without growth profits cannot be maintained and so growth of the market is encouraged. Such growth can only be brought about by increasing the number of people and getting them to demand more which, of course, results in even more resources being used. The result of this is that all resources will be used as fast as physically possible, the environment will be destroyed (because it costs to protect it which eats into profits – that’s why NACT complain about rules that require them to do so) and then we’ll go into a Malthusian Correction. Peak Oil, which is happening around about now, is an example of this. We know that it’s happening and yet we still push for more growth to maintain profits.

    • Pascal's bookie 12.3

      Kleefer, I’ve seen that argument before, usually from people that think that the war of northern agression was not really about slavery. This is belied by the speeches and resolutions passed by the seccessionist states when splitting from the union.

      If what you say is true, then in a free market slavery simply wouldn’t exist. Can you point me to an example of a place/time where slavery is both legal, but isn’t practiced? Otherwise it would seem that the market finds slavery quite productive enough to be worthwhile doing.

    • Jenny 12.4

      .

      Kleefer:

      the free market being a “race to the bottom’ is absurd. In the real world the free market increases living standards

      How then Kleefer do you explain reports like this?

      Common Dreams:

      Obama Launches New Program to Help Corporations “Take Advantage of Low Labor Costs” Abroad

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