• Corporate Governance;
  • Institutional Shareholder;
  • Legal Origins and Control;
  • Ownership Mechanisms;
  • Pension Fund Ownership


Manuscript Type


Research Issue

A critical issue for the future growth of socially responsible investment (SRI) is to what extent institutional investors such as pension funds can be persuaded to engage in it. This paper considers attempts at justifying such engagement stemming from a range of (re-)interpretations of the fiduciary duties owed by pension funds to their beneficiaries, and thereby develops a hypothesis concerning the most effective political or legal remedy.

Research Findings

Previous commentary suggests that fiduciary duty either already mandates SRI for pension funds, or at least can be made to do so rather easily. In contrast with this, however, this paper finds that none of the considered interpretations is able to justify engagement on social and environmental issues across the board. Indeed, the problem to some extent seems rooted in the very concept of fiduciary duty.

Theoretical Implications

The paper is relevant to current attempts at justifying SRI through reinterpretations of fiduciary duty, provided mainly by legal scholars and practitioners. By addressing the more philosophical issue of how far the concept of fiduciary duty can be “stretched” to accommodate SRI (a project of conceptual rather than legal clarification), it provides an evaluation of the contemporary debate which is independent of squabbles about existing law.

Policy Implications

The paper shows that there are conceptual limits to attempts at redefining fiduciary duty. But this does not mean that pension funds' engagement in SRI is unjustified or unjustifiable more generally. A more promising way to legally mandate SRI may be through what is dubbed independent social and environmental obligations.