Perspective | Investor’s Bittersweet Move a Prime Example of Social Justice Pitfalls

By: | May 19, 2024

Roger Crombie is a United Kingdom-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®. He can be reached at [email protected].

It’s been 12 years since Bermuda threw me out.

A recent newspaper story reminded me of my first visit to a supermarket after returning to London, an experience full of surprises. Groceries that would have cost more than $100 in Bermuda at the time cost just $16. I survived that news (with glee).

The real shock was the groceries on offer. The fish aisle contained fish, and chocolate. The meat aisle had meat, and chocolate. This arrangement held for every aisle except the last two, which held only chocolate. The aisles in which people waited to pay were lined on both sides by chocolate.

The story that reminded me of that experience was about a company called Legal & General Investment Management (LGIM), which looks after about $1.6 trillion of clients’ money. The newspaper called LGIM “Britain’s biggest investor.” Legal & General Group, founded in 1836, is a multinational financial services corporation that, like Travelers, uses an umbrella as its logo. L&G is Britain’s ninth largest insurer; LGIM is its asset management business.

LGIM recently instructed one of its investees, Nestlé, the world’s biggest food manufacturer (2023 revenues: $107 billion) and the maker of excellent chocolates (including KitKat), to sell a lot fewer of them. That’s right: LGIM told the company to reduce the sales of some of its most successful products — and be quick about it.

Some background on chocolate is in order: British chocolate is less gritty and perhaps sweeter than its American counterpart. British chocolate contains a higher degree of fat, which led the European Union to consider banning it altogether, or forcing it to be rebranded as “fatolate.”

Europeans are fantastically snobby about such matters. Chocolate is like their rock ’n’ roll. The Swiss lead the world in chocolate consumption; the average citizen eats 19.4 pounds every year. That’s the equivalent of two KitKats every three days of their lives. (Britain: 16.7 pounds; the U.S.: 9.7; China: 0.2).

Why did LGIM act as it did? Well, obviously, the company is led by “social justice warriors.” Their “logic” was that chocolate makes people fat, so if Nestlé made less of it, there’d be fewer fat people.

Suddenly health-conscious LGIM management wants to promote its image as a socially aware bunch of right-on cats at the cost of its sole function, which is to make money for its investors.

Really? Could the management of Britain’s largest investor be that dim? Chocolate doesn’t make people fat. People make people fat, by stuffing too much of a good thing into what the British call their “cakeholes.” Imagine you’re in a candy store. The KitKat you want isn’t available because the lunatics have taken over the asylum.

What do you do? You buy some other chocolatey product. Probably not made by Nestlé. I can handle finding chocolate in the rice aisle but will never get used to investment managers and others trying their damnedest to fail — but look good doing so.

In “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy,” Woody Allen’s character says of his profession, “I help people with their investments until there’s nothing left.”

Carts. Horses. Deep sigh. &

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