How to Invest Your Money With a Clear Conscience

Eugene Ellman, James Lorimer and Co, 1987

By John Bacher (reviewer)

One of the most vivid lessons of the growing convergence of the peace, ecological, social justice and feminist movements is the notion that "the personal is political." In How to Invest Your Money with a Clear Conscience, Eugene Ellman offers practical suggestions on how peace activists can use their savings to realize their vision of a peaceful world. Currently, many of us still invest in what Ellman terms a "mechanical way," choosing a "bank because it is close," parking "RRSP in a trust company" and letting a broker decide major investments.

Ellman makes it clear that ethical investment is not just a luxury for rich persons with a guilty conscience. Even if one only writes cheques, makes payments on mortgages or consumer loans, or uses a credit card, there are alternatives. The book lists a surprising number of examples of Canadian workers using cooperative institutions to gain more control over their own lives.

Ethical investors are astonishingly successful in funding positive social change. In 1986, for example, the Toronto Bread and Roses Credit Union loaned $821,000 to four housing cooperatives, seven worker cooperatives, fifteen nonprofit service groups, five arts organizations and seven media services.

The CIEC Credit Union in Vancouver was founded when activists in consumer and housing groups had difficulty raising capital. The largest credit union in Canada, Vancouver City Credit Union, has a seed capital program for social change projects and refuses to invest in firms that manufacture weapons. It was one of the first financial institutions to qualify women for credit on the basis of their own earnings. A trust company, League Savings and Mortgage, owned by the credit unions of Atlantic Canada, funds innovative rural housing projects.

A weakness of the book is that it does not detail the conflicts behind the development of an ethical investment strategy. One reason for Vancouver City Savings Credit Union's current ethical course is that it was taken over by social activists using the credit union's democratic bylaws, after outrage over the credit union's investment in speculative real estate loans. Now the company's policies counter such speculation. By the end of 1986, Ellman points out that Vancouver City Savings Credit Union had 62 loans worth $78-million for construction of non-profit and coop housing. Seeing the importance of the subject, the publishers have decided to revise the book annually.

Peace Magazine Jun-Jul 1988

Peace Magazine Jun-Jul 1988, page 23. Some rights reserved.

Search for other articles by John Bacher here

Peace Magazine homepage