Ethics and Banking: Do Banks Divest Their Kind?

Journal of Business Ethics:1-33 (forthcoming)
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Abstract

A growing group of institutional investors use divestment strategically to deter misconducts that are harmful for the climate and society. Based on Kantian ethics, we propose that divestment represents investors’ universal and absolute moral commitment to socially responsible investing (SRI). Following categorical and hypothetical imperatives and reciprocity as a norm, we hypothesize how institutional investors’ commit to SRI through a divestment strategy against ethically reprehensible behaviour of banks, especially when these investors represent banks themselves. Using a hand-collected database of the revelation dates of enforcement actions on banks, we find evidence that banks are less likely to divest equity holding on banks with misconduct (fined banks) than their non-bank institutional investors peers. Banks that commit to invest responsibly by signing for the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) are not significantly more likely to divest on fined banks stocks than non-signatory banks. Moreover, divestment of fined banks whose own legitimacy to operate is in question is not significantly different from non-fined banks divestment. We find that European banks are more inclined to sell their holdings permanently on fined banks than their United States peers. Therefore, bank’s moral commitment to SRI via divestments is influenced more by cultural and reciprocity norms than their moral commitment to participate in the PRI.

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