By Harald Eraker
The NorWatch report, titled "In good hands? - an unauthorised health, environmental and security report on Statoil's activities abroad", is the first critical survey on Statoil's foreign activity of its sort.
Statoil was established by the Norwegian Parliament in 1972, aiming to secure national control over the oil resources in the North Sea. But in recent years the state owned oil company has expanded abroad, and today it has activities in 35 countries if the international petrochemical activities of its subsidiary Borealis are included.
This international expansion is the focus of the NorWatch report. The first part of the report considers the various projects from the point of view of environmental issues, human rights, security policy and international law.
Portfolio of conflicts
According to the report, Statoil's international activity involves a long list of conflicts. This is especially conspicuous with regard to human rights and international law/security policy.
Statoil's activities in countries like Nigeria, Angola and Indonesia-occupied East Timor show that the company is willing to prospect for oil and gas even in countries governed by oppressive regimes or countries engaged in war. But the report also refers to other human rights problems associated with Statoil's projects:
In Malaysia the company's refinery has led to the forced relocation of villages, in Poland Statoil is in conflict with the petrol station workers' union, in Russia Statoil does not take a potential conflict with the Nenets indigenous people into consideration.
Regarding international law and security policy, Statoil is involved in several dubious projects: In the Timor Strait Statoil is drilling for oil in an area which is regulated by an treaty which is not recognised by international law, and in the South China Sea and in the Caspian Sea the company has projects in areas which are claimed by different countries, and where the level of tension is very high.
"In spite of the fact that Statoil is an oil company, it is the oil company of the Norwegian State, and it therefore has a special role to play in Norwegian foreign policy."
Helge Rønning, professor at the Institute of media and communications at the University of Oslo, to Aftenposten 23 April 1998.
The second part of the NorWatch report concentrates on the relationship between Statoil and its owner, the Norwegian State. By providing many examples, the report shows that Statoil paddles its own canoe independently of the Norwegian government, both with regard to individual projects and with regard to international conventions and foreign policy in general.
For example, Statoil makes its own assessment of the ILO-conventions, promising to respect seven of them in its international activity. Norway, on the other hand, has ratified 100 ILO-conventions. One of the conventions, ILO 169 about indigenous people's rights, Norway was the first state in the world to ratify. In spite of the fact that Statoil's activities abroad lead the company into conflict with various indigenous groups, ILO 169 is not among the conventions on Statoil's list.
Concerning the occasions when Statoil has activity in areas which involves breach of international law, or areas which are problematic from a security policy point of view, Norwegian authorities have either a different attitude from the one taken by the company, or have no attitude whatsoever.
The conclusion of this part of the report can be summarized in the following statement, given by Statoil's managing director Harald Norvik to the Norwegian newspaper Dagens Næringsliv 15 Dec. 1997:
"During the period I have been in Statoil, the owner has never tried to interfere with business decisions."
When Norwegian authorities over and over again declare that they do not interfere with business decisions, the whole world is at Statoil's feet.
NorWatch's Statoil report not only shows that the company until the present date is involved in several dubious projects and leads a self-willed policy, but also that the extent of these problems will increase in the future as a result of Statoil's ongoing international expansion.
Norwatch Newsletter 17/98