By Sebastien Malo
NEW YORK, Aug 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An investment fund designed for animal rights advocates and environmentalists, the first of its kind according to financial experts, is set to begin trading on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) next month.
VEGN, as it will show on the NYSE's floor, enters the fray of hundreds of funds that consider environmental, social or governance (ESG) factors in their investment decisions but will be unique in going animal cruelty-free, experts said.
U.S. assets under management that follow ESG principles have been surging, representing one in four dollars last year, up from one in five in 2016, according to The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment, a Washington-based non-profit.
Holding such investments is a way to pressure companies to change their behavior in order not to miss investors, said Tensie Whelan, who heads the New York University's Center for Sustainable Business.
"It's an interesting offering because it's the only one of its kind," she said in a telephone interview.
VEGN, the ticker symbol for the exchange-traded fund (ETF), whose full name is US Vegan Climate Exchange Traded ETF, will exclude stocks among the 500 largest U.S. companies that "rely on animal exploitation", said its creator Beyond Investing.
It will be listed on the NYSE starting on Sept. 10.
Selecting companies whose businesses do not test products on animals, or use animal-derived products, fossil fuels, plastic or agrochemicals, has meant tossing out 43% of the top 500 companies, said Claire Smith, the Switzerland-based chief executive of Beyond Investing.
The fund's portfolio guidelines mean it doesn't include many pharmaceuticals, materials and consumer-sector stocks, said Smith.
"Things like clothing, shoe manufacture ... (involve) so much animal products," she said.
Still, a market index of stocks that a parent company of Beyond Investing launched in June last year and that VEGN will track - meaning it will be used to guide what stocks go into the fund - has outperformed the market this year, said Smith, after "a little bit of underperformance last year."
Beyond Investing identifies companies that follow VEGN's criteria by researching their business models, regulations and internal policies, said Smith.
In a report published earlier this month the United Nations called for diets less reliant on meat in order to combat climate change and ensure enough food for all.
Animal Rebellion, a group inspired by Extinction Rebellion's non-violent civil disobedience climate activism, also is pushing for diets without meat.
Aniket Shah, a senior fellow at Columbia University's Center on Sustainable Investment in New York, said a challenge environmental, social and governance-focused funds have typically faced was small scale.
One of the largest ESG funds, run by Blackrock, has more than $1 billion in investment, a relatively small amount compared to mainstream funds, Shah said. (Reporting by Sebastien Malo @sebastienmalo, Editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers climate change, humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)
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