Why wine is not glue? the unresolved problem of negative screening in socially responsible investing

Simone De Colle, Jeffrey G. York

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    The purpose of socially responsible investing (SRI) is to: (1) allow investors to reflect their personal values and ethics in their choices, and (2) encourage companies to improve their ethical, social, and environmental performance. In order to achieve these ends, the means SRI fund managers employ include the use of negative screening, or the exclusion of companies involved in "sinful" industries. We argue that there are problems with this methodology, both at a theoretical and at a practical level. As a consequence, current SRI offerings cannot accurately reflect the values and ethical beliefs they propose to represent. Moreover, the use of a priori criteria is potentially misleading, as we show by discussing examples of glue and wine making. Applying this flawed approach SRI funds fail to influence the direction of the firms they deem most in need of re-directing. Rather than engaging in the simple a priori assumption that some industries are "saints" while others are "sinners" (Freeman, 2007) we suggest a new framework upon which the SRI screening methodology could be grounded. Embracing the philosophical tradition of American pragmatism, we suggest that SRI methodology could be improved by engaging in an analysis based on (1) the actual impacts of the company's products and services, (2) the company's relationships with its specific, real stakeholders, and (3) the contingent environment (social, economic, political, legal, and cultural) in which the business operates.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)83-95
    Number of pages13
    JournalJournal of Business Ethics
    Issue numberSUPPL. 1
    StatePublished - Feb 2009


    • Alcohol industry
    • Negative screening
    • Pragmatism
    • Socially Responsible Investing

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Business and International Management
    • General Business, Management and Accounting
    • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
    • Economics and Econometrics
    • Law


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