Giant Norway fund to hire web detectives to check for global ethical breaches

Fund tenders for global and Asian corporate surveillance mandates.

The €250bn ($322bn) Norwegian Government Pension Fund is looking to hire research companies to act as SRI internet detectives and identify if any of the 8,000 companies it invests in could be breaching its ethical guidelines. The fund, one of the world’s most active responsible investors, has put out two market tenders for continuous web-based ‘surveillance’ – one for monitoring global internet sources in English and Spanish on all companies in the fund’s global portfolio, the second to look at Mandarin and English sources specifically regarding companies in the fund’s portfolio with head offices in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan. The fund says it wants the surveillance providers to gather evidence on companies in its portfolio that may be involved in activities that contravene its strict ethical guidelines. Earlier this month, Responsible Investor reported that the fund had blacklisted two new companies, Canada’s Barrick Gold Corporation and Textron Inc in the US, for breaching its ethical codes. The fund sold shares worth NOK1,248m (€140m) in Barrick Gold, the world’s largest gold producer, because of concerns about environmental damage at the Porgera mine in Papua New Guinea, which is run by Porgera Joint Venture, in which Barrick Gold has a 95% stake.Textron was excluded for links to the production of cluster bombs. The Norwegian fund’s corporate blacklisting decisions are followed closely by investors around the world because of the resources employed in their research by the fund’s Council of Ethics. The decisions are regularly used as a proxy for other institutional investors to sell the same companies. The guidelines aim at terminating or avoiding investments in companies that may be complicit in the gravest forms of violations of international standards on human rights, the environment, situations of armed conflict and gross corruption. The Norwegian fund is currently reviewing its controversial policy on ethical blacklists for a report expected this year as a result of political debate on its efficacy. The fund said the SRI surveillance companies would only collect relevant information on companies and not conduct analysis on actual investment exclusions. The surveillance companies will provide the Norwegians with a monthly report on the companies monitored in English or Norwegian, with information on the nature of the potential involvement of the companies in any breaches and the sources for the information. The closing date for the tender is March 3. Link to ethical council site