We apply social, environmental and governance standards to all of our investments, believing they help identify opportunities to provide competitive returns to our fund shareholders while also helping to create a more just and sustainable global economic system.
We are very pleased to announce that the Domini International Social Equity Fund Investor (DOMIX) and Institutional (DOMOX) share classes received an Overall Morningstar rating of five-stars, as of December 31, 2014, based on risk-adjusted returns.
The Fund received five stars for the last 3 and 5-years, rated against 303 and 262 U.S. domiciled Foreign Large Value funds, respectively.
For each fund with at least a three-year history, Morningstar calculates a Morningstar RatingTM based on a Morningstar Risk-Adjusted Return measure that accounts for variation in a funds' monthly performance (including the effects of sales charges, loads, and redemption fees), placing more emphasis on downward variations and rewarding consistent performance. The top 10% of funds in each category receive 5 stars, the next 22.5% receive 4 stars, the next 35% receive 3 stars, the next 22.5% receive 2 stars, and the bottom 10% receive 1 star. The Overall Morningstar Rating for a fund is derived from a weighted average of the performance figures associated with its three-, five-, and ten-year (if applicable) Morningstar Rating metrics. Morningstar Rating is for the Investor and Institutional share classes only; other classes may have different performance characteristics. Fees have been waived or expenses advanced during the period on which the Fund's ranking is based, which may have had a material effect on the total return or yield for that period, and therefore the rating for the period.
Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Investment return, principal value, and yield will fluctuate so that an investor's shares, when redeemed, may be worth more or less than their original cost. Investing internationally involves special risks, including currency fluctuations, political and economic instability, increased volatility and differing securities regulations and accounting standards. The Fund may focus its investments in certain regions or industries, thereby increasing its potential vulnerability to market volatility. You may lose money.
At Domini, we believe it’s possible to make money and make a difference at the same time.
We are pleased to report that the Domini Social Equity Fund and the Domini International Social Equity Fund both outperformed their benchmarks for 2014. The Domini Social Equity Fund – Investor shares (DSEFX) returned 13.97%, beating out the S&P 500 Index, which returned 13.69%. Meanwhile, the Domini International Social Equity Fund – Investor shares (DOMIX) outperformed its benchmark by more than 1%, returning -3.27% versus -4.48% for the MSCI EAFE Index.
Each of the Domini Funds pursues an innovative strategy that combines our expertise with the strength of a financial submanager. Domini is responsible for the development and application of each Fund’s social and environmental standards. In addition, we engage with companies in our equity fund portfolios to encourage improvements in their social and environmental performance. Wellington Management Company is responsible for the Domini Social Equity Fund and Domini International Social Equity Fund’s financial standards and portfolio construction.
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Several years ago, at a Goldman Sachs annual meeting, time was set aside for shareholders to ask questions of the CEO. A man approached the microphone and announced that he was a guest, not a shareholder, and wondered if he could ask a question. “No,” he was politely informed, “only shareholders can ask questions.”
It was a telling moment that spoke a significant truth about the corporate system – only shareholders count. For many, a responsible company is defined as a company that takes care of its shareholders. A nod will be given to other “stakeholders,” such as employees and community members affected by corporate activity, but only to the extent that these good relationships help create wealth for shareholders. Shareholders? That’s us. Most of us don’t know much about picking stocks, so we trust a financial advisor or a mutual fund manager to do this for us. Nearly 100 million Americans invest in mutual funds.
When you invest in a mutual fund, your money becomes part of a common pool of assets that the fund manager uses to invest in stocks or bonds or other financial instruments. It’s their job to look out for your best interests. A mutual fund is a profit-seeking vehicle, but it can also become a vehicle for the common good. Your small investment can be leveraged to help produce significant change.
Shareholders have not done a particularly good job monitoring the behavior of the companies they own. In fact, they are often a significant part of the problem. Corporations are some of the largest economic entities in the world, and they are managed with the steady drumbeat of "make me money" in the background. It should come as no surprise when companies cut corners on safety, oppose environmental regulations and outsource production where wages and worker protections are weakest. They do this to satisfy their shareholders. A year before the explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, Tony Hayward, BP’s former CEO, quipped that he pays his shareholders an annual dividend “to keep his job.”
Moral and financial concerns are not independent but interdependent. Corporate success depends on a delicate web of relationships with employees, customers, communities, governments, suppliers, investors, and ecosystems. Companies that treat these stakeholders with dignity and respect can prosper in the long run by avoiding problems and winning the loyalty of their employees and consumers. They can also create tremendous value for society. When oil companies like BP pay insufficient attention to worker health and safety, however, shareholders also suffer. And CEOs, like Mr. Hayward, lose their jobs.
So what does it mean to be a shareholder? A shareholder is a person of influence. Together, we have an opportunity to seek profits and wield that influence for the common good.
Read why Domini chose not to invest in BP, years before the Gulf of Mexico disaster. .
The complexity of our food production systems is astounding, as are its staggering impacts on climate change and human rights. Any given meal or afternoon snack can touch on issues as far-ranging as the survival of the orangutan or a land rights dispute in Africa. Climate change, water scarcity, nutritional content, marketing to children, animal welfare and labor rights are all on the table.
Behind each familiar brand lies a complex set of relationships stretching across the globe. We view these relationships as opportunities for positive impact. As investors, we can create the incentives for companies to simultaneously be more transparent and to dig deeper to ensure their businesses are operating responsibly. Through your investment in the Domini Funds, your money is working to help catalyze this process of transformation.
For example, deforestation is an important driver of climate change, accounting for an estimated 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. The Consumer Goods Forum, an industry association, has acknowledged that “the consumer goods industry, through its growing use of soya, palm oil, beef, paper and board, creates many of the economic incentives which drive deforestation.” All 400 members of the Forum, representing all the world’s major consumer goods manufacturers, retailers and service providers, have committed to zero net deforestation by 2020.
Who will hold these companies accountable for these commitments? What do they mean in practice?
The shareholder proposal is an effective tool for encouraging corporate management to come to the table to discuss our concerns. We developed a proposal that we have submitted to several of the largest food companies, asking for public reports assessing each company’s impact on deforestation and its plans to mitigate these risks. We’ve asked these companies to report on their impact by commodity, as each carries its own set of risks and possible solutions. Among these commodities, palm oil has received the most attention because its production is responsible for large-scale forest conversion in the tropics and extensive carbon emissions.
At Domini Social Investments, the research we conduct to understand the dynamics of our food systems is core to the investment process. Whether it is expressed in the avoidance of many manufacturers of agricultural chemicals, in the search for systems that provide safer food for all, or in the proxy votes we cast or the hard questions we ask of corporate managers, we view our social and environmental standards as key to the process of helping both the public and corporations understand what is at stake.
Download our new Annual Report (PDF) to learn more about the ways the Domini Funds are helping to promote better food production around the globe, including our approach to local and organic sourcing, genetically modified organisms, pesticide use and deforestation.
Climate change presents a real and present threat to human civilization. It also presents tremendous risks and opportunities to the corporations in your mutual fund portfolio. How they handle these challenges may make the difference for all of us. Does your mutual fund manager agree with this, or do they deny the seriousness of the issue?
Concerned investors have been submitting shareholder proposals for years, asking corporations to report on their greenhouse gas emissions and take meaningful steps to address climate change. These proposals are put to a vote of all shareholders at each company’s annual meeting. Your mutual fund – in your 401(k), or your IRA, or your personal investment account – uses your money to buy shares in corporations and to vote on your behalf. A recent mutual fund study conducted by Ceres tracked the 39 shareholder proposals on climate change that went to vote in 2013. How did your mutual fund vote?
First, the good news. A handful of large fund managers supported climate resolutions more than 50% of the time. The largest fund managers, however, managing trillions of dollars, voted against these proposals, or sat on the sidelines by abstaining. According to Ceres, one of the largest mutual fund managers in the country has never cast a single vote in support of a climate-related resolution in the 10 years covered by the survey.
Socially responsible funds like the Domini Social Equity Fund are different. We not only vote in favor of these proposals, we also take the lead by drafting and submitting proposals, and by engaging in long-term dialogues with companies in our portfolios on climate change, deforestation and human rights. All of our investment decisions are based on considerations of environmental sustainability and universal human dignity.
In an article titled “The Coming Climate Crash”, Henry Paulson, former US Secretary of the Treasury wrote: “We’re staring down a climate bubble that poses enormous risks to both our environment and economy. The warning signs are clear and growing more urgent as the risks go unchecked.” Perhaps your fund manager believes in the reality of climate change, but doesn’t believe it will impact your investments. Isn’t this also a form of climate denial?
You wouldn’t vote for a climate denier. Why would you allow one to vote for you?
View Domini's Proxy Votes
On May 14, Google Inc. shareholders rejected a proposal sponsored by my firm, seeking the adoption of a responsible code of conduct to guide the company's global tax strategies. I suspect this proposal prompted a quizzical reaction from many investors who assume that minimizing corporate tax payments is good for shareholders. An April 28 Pensions & Investments editorial, “Tax exempt but tax conscious,” wrestled with this issue, ultimately concluding fiduciaries could not ask companies to pay more.
We believe a deeper analysis is required. Corporate tax minimization strategies present serious threats to long-term wealth creation and might pose greater risks than corporate taxation itself. But first, I think it is important to dispel a few myths.
The P&I editorial reports the U.S. has the highest effective tax rate in the industrialized world, at more than 40%. According to the Congressional Research Service, however, the average effective corporate tax rate in the U.S. is 27.1%, compared with 27.7% for the rest of the world. In fact, a number of multinationals pay far less than 27%, and some pay nothing at all. But this is not solely a U.S. problem. According to MSCI research, 21.4% of companies in the MSCI World index paid tax rates substantially below the weighted average tax rate of the countries in which they generate revenues.
Why would a company pay even 20% when it could go to Bermuda and pay nothing? The statutory rate is irrelevant. At issue is the ability of multinationals to pay nothing.
The P&I editorial repeats another common myth: “Corporations don't pay taxes, they collect taxes. They allow Congress to hide the true level of taxes.” This version of the “corporate taxation is double-taxation” rhetoric is also false.
Corporations collect payroll and sales taxes, and also pay real estate and income tax. A portion of corporate profits are taxed twice if they happen to be paid out in the form of dividends. But, of course, companies are not required to pay dividends and they do not pay out all of their profits. Shareholders are taxed on capital gains, based on their cost basis when they sell their shares, and on dividends. These taxes bear no direct relation to annual corporate profits.
Perhaps the biggest myth of all is that fiduciary duty compels us to look the other way. Imagine a legal obligation, based on principles of prudence and loyalty, that compels us to condone behavior that stifles innovation, destroys local and national economies, and shifts heavy financial burdens to our own clients and beneficiaries.
Fortunately, this obligation to minimize tax payments does not exist.
According to a legal opinion issued by the U.K. law firm Farrer & Co., “the idea of a strictly "fiduciary' duty to avoid tax is wholly misconceived” and a duty on corporate directors to maximize profits for the benefit of shareholders is “unknown to English law.” In the U.S., I believe a legal analysis would produce the same conclusion — the business judgment rule protects directors who choose to assess their company's “fair share” of taxes, in light of the reputational and legal risks presented by aggressive tax avoidance measures.
For fiduciaries serving investors, the duties are similarly clear — to diversify assets and pursue long-term risk-adjusted returns on behalf of their clients and beneficiaries. Even if Google itself is somehow shielded from costly liability as a result of its tax strategies, it is necessary and appropriate for fiduciaries to consider how Google's activities affect the portfolio, the broader economy, and participants and beneficiaries “in their retirement income,” to quote the Department of Labor's interpretation of obligations under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. Trustees of underfunded state pension funds might want to do a bit more than merely consider these things.
Aggressive tax avoidance is not the norm, nor should it be. It is a short-sighted and risky strategy that harms investors and society.
Corporate tax avoidance is a direct threat to government and rule of law, and, at a time of high unemployment and high government debt, tax-avoidance strategies have prompted many countries to fight back, including active work by the G20 group representing major economies and the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development. Reliance on aggressive tax strategies targeted for reform could result in financial shocks for investors. Google's effective foreign income tax rate has been in the single digits for more than a decade even though most foreign countries it operates in have corporate tax rates in the mid-20s. Does anybody think this can go on forever? The U.K. House of Commons Public Accounts Committee published a report in June 2013 criticizing Google's U.K. tax-minimization approach. The committee chair referred to these tax arrangements as “highly contrived,” “devious” and “unethical.” The French government just handed Google a tax bill for nearly $1.4 billion. If France is successful in collecting even a portion of this, we will see other aggrieved countries stepping up for their share.
Certain multinationals are weaving intentionally opaque and winding trails in and out of every loophole they can find. This global shell game not only hides taxable revenues from governments, it also hides the true sources of corporate value from investors. What portion of Google's profits are derived from superior products and services, and what portion from creative accounting? I would certainly like to know.
Tax should be viewed as an investment, not a cost. To paraphrase Oliver Wendell Holmes, tax is an investment in civilization. Too often in these debates over the burden of corporate tax, we fail to consider what corporate taxes deliver in the long run. What is our return on investment?
Corporations and investors depend upon government services funded by tax revenues, including law enforcement, market regulation, judicial systems, infrastructure maintenance, public education, poverty alleviation, environmental protection, national defense and scientific research. These indispensable services cannot be funded by corporate philanthropy or a rise in share price.
Economist Joseph Stiglitz warns that corporate tax avoidance threatens the wellspring of “future innovation and growth.” Other economists have documented the critical and visionary role government has played in spurring scientific and technological innovation when private investors were unwilling to take the risk. Google and Apple Inc. might not exist today if it had not been for taxpayer funded research. Larry Page and Sergey Brin's initial research was financed by a taxpayer funded National Science Foundation grant.
Investors should be asking Google and other multinationals to adopt ethical principles to guide their tax strategies, considering their impact on society and brand value. Just as corporations should be expected to follow consistent standards globally regarding bribery, child labor, greenhouse gas emissions and non-discrimination, they should adopt principles to help navigate the complexity of local and national tax systems.
We believe this is what fiduciary duty demands.
For the past twenty years, shareholders of the Domini Funds have used their investments to enable conversations with executives at some of the largest and most influential corporations in the world on a wide range of social and environmental issues. Domini Funds investors can take credit for helping to convince JPMorgan Chase* to hire its first Director of Environmental Affairs and to adopt a comprehensive set of environmental policies. They can take credit for helping to convince Nucor, the largest steel producer in America, to adopt stringent human rights policies to address the risk of slavery and illegal deforestation in its Brazilian supply chain. After a five year campaign, they helped convince Emerson Electric to ban discrimination against its gay and lesbian employees, and after a three year dialogue, Toyota Motor* announced that a major trading partner had ended its joint venture with the Burmese military regime. Domini Funds shareholders have helped convince numerous companies to measure their environmental impacts and to adopt strong protections for vulnerable workers in factories around the world.
Since our first shareholder resolution was submitted in 1993, Domini has filed more than 240 proposals at 95 different corporations. The use of social, environmental and governance standards to select investments, combined with a shareholder activism program to help move companies further in the right direction, has proven to be a powerful vehicle for change.
Archimedes, the ancient Greek scientist, once remarked, “Give me a lever and a place to stand and I will move the earth.” For the past twenty years, Domini has provided “a place to stand” for its mutual fund shareholders, finding as many ways as possible to amplify their voice on some of the most pressing challenges of our time. Over the course of 2014 and beyond, we look forward to sharing more success stories about how Domini Funds investors have helped to create positive change.
For more about Domini’s shareholder activism successes over the past twenty years, read our full essay in the Domini Funds 2014 Semi-Annual Report.
Originally Appeared in Private Sector Opinion 32 from the International Finance Corporation
An old management adage says you get what you measure. That’s why any decent MBA program will ensure that its students graduate with a keen knowledge of both management and financial accounting. The rationale is that every manager should not only know how profit is generated, but also be able to report on it to investors, regulators, and other stakeholders.
Few of us today doubt the significance of the environmental and social pressures the world is under. Nor can we doubt the significance of private sector activity both in generating these difficulties and in helping resolve them. Yet there is still no mandate enforcing either the measurement or the disclosure of sustainability...
Originally appeared in the Journal of Applied Corporate Finance (Vol. 25, No. 3, Summer 2013) from the Simon School of Business at University of Rochester
Responsible investors in increasing numbers are asking corporations to disclose data on their environmental, social, and governance policies and practices. These investors put this data to use in analyzing companies' financial prospects, assessing stakeholder relations (and the potential risks and rewards associated with them), making buy-sell decisions, and, when necessary, engaging with management as owners. Such investors also seek to identify companies where management has invested in credible and effective environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives that, broadly speaking, aim to create environmental and societal value.
Who are these investors? What types of ESG initiatives to they expect corporate managers to create, monitor, and report on? Will companies whose managers invest in such initiatives be rewarded in the marketplace? These are the kinds of questions this paper seeks to answer...
Originally appeared in Green Living Journal (Fall 2013)
Rian Fried, one of a handful of people who shaped what is now called “socially responsible investing,” passed away on July 3. A passionate and disciplined man, Rian sought to return capitalism to its initial purpose of helping to create a good life, and he was boundless in his enthusiasm for sustainable investing.
Along with Doug Fleer, Rian founded Clean Yield in 1984. In addition to managing assets, they also began publishing a newsletter by the same name. I have received it ever since and have never ceased to be amazed by the bold voice with which it presents groundbreaking new ideas. Whether seeking alternatives to fossil-fuels or finding ways to capitalize a local organic seed farm, Clean Yield has brought all of us along into its cozy Vermont way of doing things.
During the 1980s, Rian Fried traveled to Boston many times, as a small group of us met to discuss our shared vision of investing and to learn from each other. From these meetings grew a shared commitment to the values of responsible investing that endure today. We determined that we must select investments carefully, with environmental and social standards considered. We determined that we must take our Wall Street voice to another level by directly contacting companies and government agencies to raise issues and to mitigate injustices and harms that ordinary business can create. We determined that we must be ready to support grassroots efforts to expand the economic well-being of more people, through innovative financial institutions and from non-traditional companies alike. I will always be grateful to Rian for his quiet insistence that values come first.
Not every passing of a giant is recorded in the headlines, but we in the field of socially responsible investing know full well that Rian Fried was a cornerstone to our thinking and our work. Our hearts are heavy at his passing.