For many years I have had some concern about ethical investments. Despite the frequent use of the word “ethical”, not all companies share the same values as me and so my superannuation was placed in the best I could find at the time.
Several years later I learned of a superannuation fund that did indeed share my values – Cruelty Free Super – and of course I switched to them.
As many good advisers suggest however, not to keep all your eggs in one basket, I did leave a smaller portion in my previously chosen superannuation fund – Australian Ethical Investments (AEI).
I was concerned to learn recently however, that AEI invests in Cochlear Ltd – a medical company that has recently been the subject of media attention concerning its involvement with research into the effects of cochlear implants. The research involves rendering healthy cats profoundly deaf, performing craniotomies on them, conducting recordings using microelectrodes in their skulls and then killing them.
HRA was deeply disappointed that such cruel and unethical research is conducted by Cochlear Ltd and puzzled that AEI chooses to invest in such a company. It therefore respectfully requested that AEI consider removing Cochlear Ltd from the portfolio of companies it considers to be ethical and instead invest in the development and use of innovative technology and research that is directly relevant to the species (humans) it is purported to benefit.
AEI did not share the same concerns. While AEI advised that it considers the wellbeing of animals as an issue in all its investment decisions, its ethical charter allows it to “invest in a healthcare company that conducts animal tests where the testing is necessary and we assess that the human benefit of the company’s products outweighs the concerns about animal testing.” AEI did acknowledge however that the recent media article included concerning details about the nature of Cochlear’s testing which it had not previously had access to and that AEI will address those concerns with the company.
While I appreciate AEI’s willingness to look into this issue, I am nevertheless concerned that an “ethical” investment company continues to include companies which use animals in medical research in its Ethical Charter.
As the Chief Executive Officer of an organisation that is focused on bringing an end to the unethical and unjustifiable use of animals in research when so many scientific and relevant alternatives exist, I was having great difficulty reconciling my own superannuation investments with both my personal ethics and those of the organisation I lead. From what I’d already heard, such sentiments are shared by a significant number of HRA members who are concerned that on the one hand they are opposing animal experiments while simultaneously investing in the industry they oppose through their superannuation fund and its choices.
I informed AEI of my dilemma and my intention to move my investments from them. Their response was:
“…we do accept that there are significant limits to the efficacy of animal testing for developing medical treatments for humans, and that these limitations need to be taken into account in deciding whether research programs which use animals should receive ethics approvals to proceed. However, where we currently differ I think is that we still consider that there are circumstances in which the use of animals for medical research and testing may be justified by the potential benefit to humans.”
Needless to say, I am currently in the process of withdrawing my investment from AEI and moving to a fund which is genuinely aligned to my values.