Virtue is growing on us

IF YOU want to invest in companies with positive ethical and environmental standards, there will be a unit or investment trust to reflect your aims. The ethical sector is growing fast, both in the choice of funds and in the amount of money under management. Three years ago there were only 14 specialist unit trusts available and they looked after pounds 479m worth of investments. Today there are 23 unit trusts and two investment trusts, from Friends Provident and Jupiter, controlling funds valued at pounds 2.2bn.

Stephen Hine, head of research at Ethical Investment Research Services (Eiris), says the amount of money invested in ethical funds has almost doubled in the past year. US interest in investing on an ethical basis is longer-established with many more mutual funds from which to choose. These funds began to become popular during the Vietnam war, when ethical and environmental concerns came to prominence, and never looked back.

In the UK the big impetus was supplied by the anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s. Eiris, founded in 1983 by a group of churches and charities, "was set up to provide research into corporate behaviour and has it origins in the movement", says Mr Hine. As well as providing advice to around 68,000 private investors, Eiris advises many of the ethical funds on the corporate activities of companies that they may want to support.

You can invest in ethical funds via monthly savings plans and a range of financial products, as well as by direct investment. Most can be included in personal equity plans, or individual savings accounts when they become available in April.

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