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Your 401(k) Experiments on Animals

Just in case you were thinking you don’t contribute to research involving live nonhumans, I’ve got news for you: If you have a 401(k) or other retirement plan at work that requires you to choose from a list of mutual funds, your hard-earned money is going to vivisection. Even if in the list are a couple of socially-responsible funds (like those offered by Calvert or Domini), you’re still not out of the woods.

Many funds use the shareholder-activism approach: if you own shares you can have a say in the direction of the company. Clearly, the more shares the better. In fact, sort of like restricted donations, the number has to be rather large to make a difference in the mission of an organization/corporation.

Rocky Mountain Humane Investing is the only company that I know of that screens out nonhuman animal experimentation (and I’m not just talking about for non-medical purposes, as a lot of them do that), however it isn’t included as an option in most retirement plans and you must have a minimum of $100,000 to invest. And though it also screens out factory farming, there’s no way it’s vegan. Ah, another area in your life where you realize you’re not a vegan. I hate it when that happens.

I frequently say that I don’t like to talk about a problem unless I have a solution. Unfortunately, in this case, there is no viable alternative that completely solves the problem. But there are things you can do.

  • Know your funds. Most people pick a fund, usually based on prior performance (meanwhile, every prospectus makes it very, very clear that past performance is not a guarantee of future results), and they have no idea what’s in it, who’s managing it or what that person’s track record is. Go to the website for your fund, look at your prospectus (if it’s recent), and get to know the companies YOU are funding with your precious pre-tax dollars. Only after you’ve gotten to know your funds are you in a legitimate position to complain about anything.
  • Talk to your benefits person and voice your discontent. The options offered by your company aren’t changing significantly anytime soon, but supply will never change if the demanders (that’s you) don’t start making demands. (Okay, you’re not really in a position to make a demand, but you can say you’d appreciate more options that screen for the things you care about.)
  • Do NOT take all of your money out of your funds and put them in some under-performing vehicle like a money market account because you’re nauseated by your complicity in animal testing. Why? Because you won’t be able to comfortably retire if you do that. You might not be able to retire at all.
  • There are funds that are better than others for those interested in minimizing their impact on animals. Look at the companies in your fund. If it’s composed mostly of pharmaceuticals, tobacco and factory farming, you might want to switch to one with companies involved in eco-friendly products, sustainable development and green technology. (If you have an alternative energy fund as an option, check it out, but also remember that diversification among sectors isn’t a bad idea.)

Unfortunately, most Americans unwittingly contribute to all sorts of industries and products they abhor simply by checking off which fund they want to invest in for their retirement. The least you can do is find out where your money is going, and register your malcontent if indeed you are not happy with what you learn.

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Excellent post with useful information. This is something I think about on a regular basis, and I suspect a lot of us think about – the harsh dilemma between being destitute and financing unethical practices under duress – but it is (IMHO) under-discussed. So thank you!

    August 19, 2007

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