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Outside View: Investing terror free

By MARK LANGERMAN and AVI JORISCH, UPI Outside View Commentators

WASHINGTON, Sept. 22 (UPI) -- Most people have no idea that many of the companies they do business on a daily basis also do business with terrorists or those who support terrorism.

Unwitting investors also are unaware that their money is invested in the stocks and bonds of companies that indirectly fund terrorism, nuclear proliferation and genocide.

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A decade after the September 11 attacks, terror-free investing is an innovative way to fight back against the enemies of liberal democracies. Terror-free investing, in concert with measures such as global sanctions, can have a measurable policy impact.

Terror-free investing is based on the idea that publicly traded companies should be accountable for their business dealings with our nation's adversaries, specifically, state sponsors of terrorism. Information available to all institutional investors indicate that, as of March 31, there were approximately 625 publically traded companies around the globe operating in Iran, Syria, North Korea and Sudan.

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It is time for investors to start calling on these companies to pull out of those countries.

The terror-free investment strategy is based on two broad principles: First, encourage public firms to freeze their activities in countries that aid and abet terrorism or are trying to obtain weapons of mass destruction. Second, damage the economies of state sponsors of terrorism, which are highly dependent on foreign public firms for their economic survival, ultimately forcing these governments to change their behavior.

This model is very similar to the successful South African divestment campaign of the 1980s, which contributed to the eventual downfall of the apartheid regime, showing that investor activism can make a huge impact.

For years, the debate has focused on which countries to involve and where to draw the bright line. In fact, many state governments in the United States have tended to set their own policy by divesting from companies that do business in the energy sector of Iran. But that model is far too narrow to effectively combat the threats faced by liberal Western democracies worldwide.

Those who advocate terror-free investing believe it is time to think bigger than just Iran and include rogue regimes such as Syria, Sudan and North Korea.

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Terror-free investing marks an evolution from divestment to pre-screened, sophisticated investment options that are available to just about everyone in the market.

As the terror-free investing movement grows, public companies are excluded from pools of responsible investor capital. The companies that continue to do business with state sponsors of terror will increasingly lose access to billions of dollars capital and face growing public scrutiny, providing a significant disincentive for them to maintain their business ties with these regimes.

But what does this mean for the everyday investor? Historically, investing terror-free has had little impact on returns and can actually lower portfolio risk. This means that you can get an equivalent return on your investments while ensuring your funds aren't supporting rogue regimes and sponsors of terrorism.

The war on terror takes many forms, including diplomatic, military and economic efforts. Those of us lucky enough to live in free societies have the ability to take financial steps to support this war.

It is time to change our operating paradigm and prevent funds from reaching terrorists and their state sponsors. At the very minimum, international lawmakers, and members of the U.S. Congress in particular, should consider passing legislation that bars public pension funds from being invested in companies that support these states.

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We need to strenuously apply every tool in our possession to ensure we choke off the supply of funds to countries that threaten us.

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(Mark Langerman is chief executive officer of Empowerment Financial Group. Avi Jorisch, a former U.S. Treasury official, is president of the Red Cell Intelligence Group and the author of "Tainted Money: Are We Losing the War on Money Laundering and Terrorism Finance?")

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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