God in the Investment Business
The Christian Equity Index represents a Vatican-backed medium for ‘socially responsible investment’. To work, it will have to be more flexible.
In 2010 the Vatican-backed Christian equity index (CEI) was introduced to the stock market. Based upon the concept of ethical investment, this initiative was introduced in reaction to the increasing demand for socially responsible stock opportunities. Like ethical funds in general, the CEI is concerned with solely investing in stocks that can be deemed socially responsible. Nevertheless, experience shows that the concept of Christian virtue is in constant competition with the more secularly oriented norms of the present. This gives rise to the question of whether Christian values can become a desirable characteristic of profitable business.
Nowadays Christian virtue is considered to be well meant but often outdated. Objectively this assertion can be tested by compliance with the ‘three P’s’ of social responsibility, namely People, Planet, and Profit. Grounded on the sanctity of human life, weapons and tobacco are excluded from the CEI, but also birth control, which is currently considered to be a medical outcome rather than a moral taboo. Environmental concern is not essential to the Christian concept of social responsibility, resulting in a certain neglect of the planet.
Being an investment index however, profit remains essential to the CEI’s continuity. In order to uphold Christian virtue whilst simultaneously making profit, the danger arises of investing in morally justifiable ends whilst ignoring the irresponsible means by which those end products are achieved. Exemplary of this is the CEI-accredited pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, which only last year pleaded guilty in what is considered to be the largest healthcare fraud case in the history of the United States.
It seems that Christian investment is a well meant initiative, but lacks what could be considered the fourth P of social responsibility, namely progress. True ethical investment should be based not only on adhering to the ‘three P’ criterion, but also on the future sustainability of such strategies. Does Christian virtue contribute to the achievement of a better world for the generations to come? A positive answer to this question will require the Christian community to adapt to the contemporary situation, and become more critical of the production process as a whole rather than just the final marketable result.
The CEI makes a commendable effort to invest responsibly, but the result leaves much to be desired. Flexibility will be needed if the CEI wishes to become truly known as an investment index that comports itself in a loving way towards its neighbours.