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Socially Responsible Investing

Socially responsible investing, or SRI as it is commonly called, is a concept that on the surface seems to have merit.  The SRI mantra:  invest in companies that promote social and environmental well-being and you become an ethical investor.  Unfortunately, ethical investing is hard in practice.  The difficulty of SRI begins with a very basic question: What constitutes a socially responsible company?

Originally, the goal of SRI was to eliminate from an investorís portfolio companies involved in the production of alcohol, tobacco and military products.  SRI quickly expanded to include environmentally friendly companies, hence the SRI slogan, "green investing."  Companies involved in the exploration/production of oil, minerals and other natural resources became questionable candidates for socially responsible investing.  Now there is a new trend in SRI, which is to focus on companies that treat humanity with respect and dignity.  Companies that mistreat their employees, including using tactics like layoffs to boast profits, in principle donít qualify now as socially responsible.

Combine all these investing qualifications and few companies can meet the mark.  Owning a socially responsible mutual fund certainly does not ensure you are investing in socially responsible companies.  Because mutual funds often own hundreds of companies, it is likely that some of the businesses in the fund produce products that compromise the environment or conduct business that focuses more on profits than people.  The only way you can truly become a socially responsible investor is to select your own investments.        


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