Mother Earth Living

Green Money: Put Your Money Where Your Values Are

We answer your questions about green brokers, sweatshop-free clothing and corporate social responsibility.
By Hal Brill & Cliff Feigenbaum
March/April 2006
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Wal-Mart’s top brass, tired of the mega-retailer’s tarnished image, announced that it was enacting a broad set of progressive social and environmental policies.

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Desperately seeking SRI broker

Q: Where can I find a green money–oriented broker in my area?

Shandera, Nevada City, California

A: Only a fraction of the brokers in this country are educated about the full range of socially responsible investments available. Fortunately, the Directory of Socially Responsible Investment Services makes it easy to find a broker who specializes in socially responsible investing (SRI). The national directory is compiled by the Social Investment Forum, the nonprofit trade organization of SRI investment practitioners and institutions. The directory is cross-referenced by location so you easily can find out if someone in Nevada City specializes in SRI.

Of course, it’s also possible to work long-distance with an adviser via phone and e-mail if your community is still without an SRI specialist.

Clothing with a conscience

Q: I know there are a lot of sweatshops with awful working conditions and child labor. I don’t want to buy clothing from companies that mistreat workers. Are any retailers proactively addressing this issue?

Georgia, Portland, Maine

A: Yes, some progress is being made in the apparel industry. In 2005, The Gap issued a “Social Responsibility Report” that we hope will become a model for all retailers.

The first of its kind, it examines how well the 3,000 factories in 50 countries that produce Gap clothing are complying with Gap’s vendor code, which requires that factories protect worker health and safety, as well as the environment. Having a vendor code is a significant step, something Wal-Mart and other retailers have long resisted.

The Gap employs 90 vendor-compliance officers who visit every factory every year. As a result of their monitoring, more than 130 factories have been removed from the company’s list of eligible manufacturers. The Gap’s most recent report revealed a variety of health and safety infractions, substandard wages and environmental hazards, and the company vowed to fix all the problems. This is the type of accountability we hope to see in all corporations.

Last October, Wal-Mart’s top brass, tired of the mega-retailer’s tarnished image, announced that it was enacting a broad set of progressive social and environmental policies. The company—which in 2001 was kicked out of the Domini 400 Social Index because it resisted shareholder efforts asking the company to take steps like Gap has done—is now saying it will become a leader in environmental and social issues. This stunning announcement included a goal of creating zero waste and being supplied by 100 percent renewable energy.

Wal-Mart has pledged to give teeth to its factory-certification program by creating an independent monitoring system. Corporate watchdogs will be hounding the company to make sure it complies with these promises. If it does, Wal-Mart’s leadership could catalyze a global embrace of corporate responsibility. Stay tuned.

Michael Kramer of Natural Investment Services contributed to this column.

Hal Brill and Cliff Feigenbaum are co-authors of Investing with Your Values: Making Money and Making a Difference (New Society, 2000). Brill is president of  Natural Investment Services , a Registered Investment Adviser in Paonia, Colorado. Feigenbaum is publisher of the award-winning GreenMoney Journal , a socially responsible consumer publication. Green Money is a registered trademark of GreenMoney Journal/Cliff Feigenbaum. Used with permission. This material is for informational purposes only. It is not a solicitation to invest. 

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