Keeping public institutions invested in tobacco

Journal of Business Ethics 73 (2):161 - 176 (2007)
Abstract
Increasingly through the 1990s, tobacco control advocates questioned the practice of public institutions investing in tobacco company stocks. The questioning was framed in at least three ways. First, is it ethical to fund public expenditures with profits from a product that causes addiction and disease? Second, is it sound social policy to derive public income from a product that increases healthcare costs and reduces worker productivity? Finally, is it sound fiscal policy to invest in an historically profitable industry facing multiplying legal and regulatory challenges? While the tobacco industry preferred to restrict discussion to the fiscal question, and offered an affirmative answer, its position was weakened by depressed stock prices brought on by actions of the industry as much as by tobacco control activism. As part of a campaign to restore its credibility as an investment vehicle with public fund managers, Philip Morris (PM) commissioned a report from the influential investment managers/advisors Wilshire Associates. However, Wilshire had only recently conducted such a study for the Washington State Investment Board (WSIB), assuring the board that the value tobacco stocks added to an investment portfolio – if any – was too small to be measured. Nonetheless, within a year, Wilshire produced a report for PM which appeared to laud the investment value of tobacco and to dismiss tobacco-excluded investment alternatives. This paper examines how Wilshire produced apparently diametrically opposed reports for clients with different interests. It reveals a pattern of potential conflicts of interest among tobacco companies, financial analysis firms, investment authorities, and institutional fund managers. It demonstrates substantial violations of two generally accepted ethical principles of business consulting: veracity and transparency.
Keywords divestment  ethics  consulting  public health policy  public investments  tobacco industry documents
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