(First published in Norwegian 09 Mar 2005)
By Pia A. Gaarder
On 18 June 2004 the first ethical guidelines for the Oil Fund were approved by the parliament and since 1 December 2004, these guidelines have been in effect. NorWatch has asked the head of the ethical council, Gro Nystuen, why the work to implement the guidelines is not being implemented faster, and why the Oil Fund continues to invest in producers of cluster bombs and nuclear weapons.
“One of the first things we started in the new year, was an investigation into what the facts were in relation to which companies are involved in production of cluster and nuclear weapons. We have to reach a definition of central components in cluster bombs and in nuclear weapons. There are also different types of cluster bombs, air and ground delivered, and there is a need for delimitation,” says Nystuen.
And she continues:
“The same applies to nuclear weapons: Are F16 airplanes that can carry nuclear weapons, itself a nuclear weapon as some ethical screeners have claimed? These are among the questions we have to take a position on before we can recommend disengagement.”
The ethical council has involved different consultants in this work. Through this work they will get both a definition as to what can be considered central components and a list over companies that are involved in production.
“In this work, we use the services of a traditional screening company and consultants connected to union environments,” says Nystuen.
Despite the criticism over lack of progress, Nystuen believes that the council has started well. The council was appointed 19 November and had its first meeting on 21 December. The council has been on a fact-finding trip to London, and has so far had three meetings. She has taken a year’s sabbatical from work in the Foreign Ministry and started as full-time leader of the Ethical Council on 3 January. The recruitment process for two secretariat members is still not concluded, but will apparently be finished during April.
Nystuen points out that the Council is mandated no to just filter through the portfolio of 3,000 companies, but also the whole investment universe and that includes all listed companies, about 44,000.
“But why have you not chosen another method: first screening away cluster bomb and nuclear weapons which the Oil Fund currently has invested in and thereafter screen the whole investment universe?”
“Because in that case we don’t believe there will be a big difference in the results. It is after all the biggest weapons producers we are talking about. In addition, we want to do this properly, and not just picking out a couple of companies to exclude from the fund. That would be window-dressing. One should always remember that what the Oil Fund does, can be used by others if it is based on solid foundations,” says Nystuen.
“But could you not do it both quickly and properly? In other words, mark the introduction of the guidelines by excluding the biggest weapons producers that produce cluster bombs for example, which are the simplest example, and thereafter get down to the harder work?”
“That would be possible but we have chosen to do it this way.”
“What time limits have been set for the consultants?”
“We have given clear targets, but it is difficult to know in advance how long it will take. But we are expecting a relatively quick response to the questions on the cluster bomb producers,” says Nystuen.
When the Ethical Council has reached a reasoned list over what companies that they consider should be excluded, the list will be sent to Norges Bank which itself will send letters to the companies concerned. The companies then get the opportunity to comment and provide eventual new information if they have ceased production or divested units producing these components.
“Thereafter it will be up to the Ministry of Finance to decide which companies the asset managers will divest from. But I doubt they will divert from our advice,” says Nystuen.
“What about nuclear weapons?”
“We are also in the process of investigating nuclear weapons producers and map the sector. But nuclear weapons are more complicated for several reasons. It is not always about publicly available information. The problem concerning dual-use where components are not just used in nuclear weapons, raises questions as to whether companies are to be excluded because components are used in nuclear weapons. And then there is production of actual warheads, and then you enter the actual definition of nuclear weapons. Is one to include specially constructed missiles or not?”
In addition there is ongoing research into so-called mini-nukes that are meant to be a new, non-tactical yet conventional weapon. If these weapons are put into production, it would pulverise the non-proliferation treaty, she adds.
The Ethical Council does not want to take a position on these questions before it has all the facts on the table. And according to Nystuen, this can take longer than for cluster bombs producers.
“In addition we are mandated to be far-sighted. This means that we cannot punish a company with exclusion for something they have done in the past. And there are suggestions that some companies that have produced nuclear missiles in the past no longer do so.”
“But production of nuclear weapons is not carried out in the same way as bread. Orders come in sporadically. If a company does not produce nuclear weapons today, this does not mean that the company is not in the business. Would it not be more correct to see if companies maintain production capabilities rather than seeing if they produce nuclear weapons today?”
“It is a good argument which we have to take a position on.”
“Will the Council take political considerations? In other words, will you consider whether there will be economical or political consequences if the Oil Fund excludes Lockheed Martin because of the company’s involvement in nuclear weapons production?”
“No, we will not take such views in our considerations. Political views will have to be considered by the Ministry of Finance. We will recommend. It will be the Ministry of Finance that will make the decision on whether a company is to be excluded or not.”
“When it comes to individual exclusions and consideration of companies that have breached certain ethical rules. What will happen to these in the future?”
“Several cases have come to our attention, for example, the case of Kerr McGee and oil exploration in waters off Western Sahara. In addition, Future in our Hands [of which NorWatch is a division] have sent us a list of a number of companies. When it comes to these cases we will eventually come out with recommendations. We will not wait till we have completed all investigations before we recommend disinvestment. We are already in the process of working with these companies, but I cannot say which will be handled first.”
“We also need a general methodology to map all the companies. Here we will need help from professional screening companies, and we are in the process of arranging a bidding round. The whole process takes time, and it may be some months before anyone gets to start this job.”
“But will you work in two stages, first screening the portfolio of companies in which the fund has already invested and then the whole investment universe of 44,000 companies?”
“We do not know yet. We will probably have to ask the screening companies we hire to advice us on that.”
“Do you have enough resources for the job?”
“If we get too much criticism for delaying the work then we will have to reconsider the resource situation.”
“When the portfolio as of 31 December 2005 is published in March next year, will we then be able to see that the ethical guidelines have been implemented at the fund and see this in the portfolio?”
“Of course. Otherwise I have nothing to do in this job,” concludes Gro Nystuen.