EBSA Gives Thumbs Down to SRI Investment Criteria

October 16, 2008 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Federal regulators have reaffirmed their position that the goal for investments in Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) plans must be to generate maximum returns to meet pension liabilities and not for socially responsive investing purposes.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) said in a news release that its guidance asserts that plan fiduciaries may never increase expenses, sacrifice investment returns, or reduce the security of plan benefits to promote legislative, regulatory, or public policy goals with no connection to the payment of benefits or plan administrative expenses.

“Fiduciary consideration of non-economic factors should be rare and, when considered, must comply with ERISA’s rigorous fiduciary standards,” EBSA officials said in the announcement.  

“Recent events highlight the importance of ensuring secure and transparent retirement savings plans for American workers, retirees and their families,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Employee Benefits Security Administration, Bradford P. Campbell, in the news release.   “Today the department reiterates and clarifies its longstanding view that workers’ money must be invested and used solely to provide for retirements, not for political, corporate or other purposes.”

Meanwhile, an EBSA bulletin on shareholder rights updates prior guidance issued by the department on the application of ERISA’s fiduciary standards to shareholder activism and proxy voting.  

The two interpretive bulletins are to be published Friday, October 17 in the Federal Register.