A recent expose by television show 60 Minutes into conditions on board a ship containing live sheep for export has re-opened the debate on the ethics of live animal export for slaughter.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has announced a review into northern summer live sheep export trade, but ethical investor Australian Ethical says that for Australians who believe that live export trade should be banned, there are actions they can take as investors and consumers of financial products to help achieve their goals.
“This is a role where we as investors can scrutinise what relationships lenders, insurers, transportation and logistics suppliers have with the industry, and obviously there is a wide spectrum of those,” says Stuart Palmer, head of ethics, Australian Ethical.
Australian Ethical does not invest in any agricultural company that directly engages in live animal export for slaughter, and they also exclude companies in the live export supply chain, which supply cattle for live export.
“A company we screen out is AACo, which produces cattle, and one of the destinations is the live export market,” Stuart says. “For other investors that do invest in AACo, there are opportunities to engage with the company about eliminating sales for the live-export market. Then going beyond that, the way we approach it is as heavy screener – we don’t invest in those companies, but looking beyond our screen, we ask what are the companies which may have connections with live export in areas like transport, logistics, finance etc. We need to understand the nature of their relationship and identify what points of leverage they might have to end this trade.”
“We’ve had ad hoc conversations with the banks we invest in in the past, but a member picked it up, and discovered that one of the major banks had a sponsorship tie with the NT Live Export Association. We raised that with them, and they subsequently severed that tie.”
“Looking ahead, we’re starting fresh conversations with banks and insurers, and there are the logistics companies. We do invest in Qube, a logistics company, and there is live cattle leaving our shores by ports where they operate. It’s a tiny amount of revenue, less than one tenth of one percent, but it’s still there. We’re refreshing that conversation now – what they can do to either sever any ties with this export trade, or where can they apply some pressure to it.”
The regulatory framework to protect animals on long voyages needs to be improved, Stuart says, while his colleague at Australian Ethical, ethics analyst Amanda Richman adds that there is the risk of changing regulation and subsequent costs to bear that may reduce investment return.
“We saw in 2011 when the first major expose happened about the treatment of animals in export markets, the immediate response was to suspend trade with Indonesia, which had implications for the industry and for investors in the industry as well,” Amanda says. “Now while the government isn’t proposing at the moment to suspend/end the trade, there was a shipment that was meant to go out yesterday but because AMSA, the Maritime Authority, conducted an inspection of the ship and found that the ship didn’t have appropriate ventilation, it couldn’t leave. That has financial implications. The minister at the moment is talking about significant changes to the regulatory framework, including an independent inspection on every shipment, lower shipping densities, particularly during the hot periods, and again, that will bring additional regulations with implications of cost.”
Amanda outlines further concerns and Australian Ethical’s position on a ban on live export in a blog post.
In addition to engaging with your super fund or your investment provider, you can also raise the issue within your work and wider communities, Stuart says.
“We saw in the marriage equality debate, that there was quite powerful engagement across society and in the discussion of the issue, raising the question about why people shouldn’t be doing more across companies on this issue now, too,” Stuart says. “Through our social media we’re promoting the Animals Australia website around these issues, and there’s a petition there, which people can easily support, and we’re suggesting our members do that. Amanda has written a blog which is on the website and has the checklist, making enquiries of your super fund, banks, and insurers and talk to your company/employer.”