Foto: Baz Ratner / Reuters
[This English translation was published 31 March 2009]
By Erik Hagen
23 March Norwatch revealed that the Norwegian Government Pension Fund has invested in the company Africa-Israel Investments Ltd, which is constructing illegal settlements on the West Bank.
The company is, among other things, in on developing the settlement Ma’aleh Adumin (see above). Development of settlements on occupied Palestinian territory is contrary to international law.
It turns out that private Norwegian banks until recently have offered their customers the possibility to invest in the company behind these projects. The last updated fund portfolios are from October 2008, and the British fund manager BlackRock refuses to clarify to Norwatch whether the controversial company is still on the list.
Neither customers of Storebrand Link, Fokus Bank’s pension scheme Danica Link nor Skandiabanken have guarantee that they still invest their savings in the company.
This is made possible through the external fund BlackRock Emerging Europe Fund (previously Merrill Lynch IIF Emerging Europe), which is sold by the three investors in Norway.
The last report available from the BlackRock fund, from third quarter last year, shows that the fund had invested in the controversial West-Bank company. (See the quarterly report on Fokus Bank’s web pages here .)
Member of Parliament Bjørn Jacobsen (from the Norwegian government party, Socialist Left Party) is very critical of both the Pension Fund’s and the private banks’ involvement in the West Bank.
“This is completely unethical. Customers in these private companies will react with disgust on finding out that they are participating in financing new settlements on occupied territory. Modern bank customers won’t accept this,” Jacobsen told Norwatch.
Jacobsen emphasised that he realises that it can take a certain amount of time to put ethical fund management into practice, both for the Pension Fund and for the private banks. Nevertheless, he believes that it should be easy to sell off these investments.
“We are speaking of pressing five keys and we are out of the West Bank. It is clear that the brokers understand the bonus language, but it seems as if they don’t understand the ethical signals from the Norwegian Parliament at all. Perhaps we should consider bonus systems for brokers who get us out of unethical investments,” Jacobsen said.
Storebrand Checks up on the Case
Christine Tørklep Meisingset, manager of socially responsible investments (SRI) in Storebrand Kapitalforvaltning, said that they will now consider carrying out an ethical analysis of the company.
“Depending on what we discover about Africa-Israel Investments, we shall get in touch with BlackRock to put pressure on the company. We have already established a structure for checking and following up such external managers, who constitute our financial supply chain,” Tørklep Meisingset told Norwatch.
She pointed out that they have not invested in the company in their own funds and that the latest information that Storebrand has with regard to the BlackRock fund’s composition, from third quarter last year, shows that the fund has indeed invested in the Israeli company.
Quiet Fund Manager
The web pages of Danica Pension – which is the Danish name of Fokus Bank’s Danica Pension – praise BlackRock’s ethical profile.
“BlackRock has incorporated principles for SRI in their investment decisions,” Danica Pension claims on its web pages.
BlackRock in London is, however, dead quiet about the investment. They do not wish to clarify for Norwatch whether Africa-Israel Investments is a part of the mentioned fund, and they won’t comment on whether it is ethically justifiable to include Africa-Israel Investments in the portfolio.
“We never comment on our customers’ investments,” Karen Hazlewood, press contact for BlackRock, wrote in an e-mail to Norwatch.
What is known is that today the fund invests money in Israel and that the fund in the third quarter last year had a single Israeli company in its portfolio – that is, Africa-Israel Investments.