Norwegian govt fund checks companies for Israel-Gaza human rights abuses

Council of ethics will include non-Israeli suppliers to the region in its review.

The Norwegian government has responded to Israel’s military offensive in the Gaza strip by asking the Council of Ethics, which advises the country’s €267bn Government Pension Fund, to check that companies in which it invests in the region are not involved in human or labour rights abuses. Kristin Halvorsen, Norwegian Minister of Finance, said the Norwegian fund should carry out an immediate ethical review of investments in Israel in response to the current offensive of Israeli forces into Gaza following rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas militants. The conflict has so far killed more than 600 Palestinians and 10 Israelis. Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary general, has said he is “deeply dismayed” by the killings, which he called “totally unacceptable” and the UN has demanded an impartial investigation into the situation. Halvorsen said: “Due to the present situation in Gaza, I have asked the Council on Ethics to give an account for the Council’s work on cases relating to companies with activities in the areas in question.” During 2008, the Israel equity market was included for the first time in the Norwegian fund’s benchmark meaning that it has invested in a growing number of Israeli companies. Between 2006 and 2008, the Norwegian Council on Ethics on various occasions considered possible contribution to human rights violations or other ethical norms through investment in Israeli companies.The Council also looked into whether investments in non-Israeli companies with activities in Israel could be linked to unethical conduct. To date, it has not recommended any exclusion from the fund’s investment portfolios of the companies it has researched. Halvorsen said that investments in companies found to contribute to an occupation of territory in breach of international law or suppression of the freedom of people in an occupied territory, could be deemed to be in breach of the fund’s ethical code. The code recommends blacklisting companies where there is a considerable risk of contributing to serious or systematic human rights violations including murder, torture, deprivation of liberty and forced labour. She said the Ministry of Finance was also conducting a broader review of the fund’s ethical guidelines in which it will evaluate whether they adequately address companies’ contributions to unethical conduct in conflict zones: “It is, however, important to bear in mind that it is not the purpose of the Norwegian Government Pension Fund – Global to serve as a foreign policy instrument,” she said.
At the beginning of 2008, the fund held equity stakes in Israeli companies included Bank Hapoalim, Check Point Software Technologies and Partner Communications and owned Israeli state bonds as well as corporate bonds in Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and Israel Electric Corporation.