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UPDATED Storebrand axes Siemens Energy and Enel over Western Sahara links amid ceasefire breach

Risk increases following Trump’s unilateral recognition of Morocco’s occupation

Correction: This story was corrected to state that Storebrand divested Siemens Energy, not Siemens. 

Storebrand, the NOK921bn (€89.3bn) Norwegian asset manager, has excluded European firms Siemens Energy, Siemens Gamesa and Enel due to their operations in Morocco-occupied Western Sahara.

The exclusion follows a screening undertaken in 2020 to identify companies with links in occupied Palestinian territories and occupied Western Sahara, as businesses conducted in conflict-affected areas are exposed to a higher risk of involvement in human rights violations, according to Storebrand. See exclusion list.

The Norwegian asset manager stated: “Despite international attention on these conflicts, none of them seems near a resolution. According to reports from the UN and several Human Right organizations, the occupying powers in these territories continue expanding their occupation which in turn results in continuing violations of human rights. In addition, attention to these issues by companies and investors continues to be low.” 

Germany's Siemens Energy, its Spanish-listed renewable energy subsidiary Siemens Gamesa and Italian utility firm Enel Group are involved in wind farm projects in occupied Western Sahara, most recently one in Bojdour, which Siemens Gamesa refers to as being “located in the South of Morocco”.

“Climate projects are fundamentally important, but such investments should clearly not be made at the expense of human rights or international law” – Erik Hagen

Erik Hagen, Board Member of campaign group Western Sahara Resource Watch, told RI: “We commend Storebrand for a good and principled decision. Climate projects are fundamentally important, but such investments should clearly not be made at the expense of human rights or international law.”

Hagen added that Siemens’ statements suggest that shareholder engagement has not been effective, leaving investors with exclusions as the only option. 

The second largest shareholder of Siemens Gamesa is BlackRock. Norges Bank Investment Management has 2.33% of shares in its German parent Siemens, although it has not excluded any of these companies. 

The Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance owns approximately 23.6% of Enel’s share capital and in 2020 appointed economist and responsible investment champion Mariana Mazzucato to the board.

Hagen said Siemens and Enel “have no right signing large energy agreements on occupied land. The fact that the companies claim that their presence contributes to local development is not only completely irrelevant, but also highly disputed. It is up for the people of Western Sahara to decide such matters – not Siemens, Enel or Donald Trump.”

In December, outgoing US President Donald Trump unilaterally recognised Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara, following the breach of the 29- year long ceasefire in the region. For more on this topic, see RI’s article on the conflict and its political and investment context

UPDATE: 

After publication, Tulia Machado-Helland, Head of Human Rights at Storebrand Asset Management, provided the following comment: 

"We have engaged with the companies but found that they have not carried out comprehensive human rights due diligence of the projects and their business partners in Morocco occupied Western Sahara. The companies are involved in wind farms projects in occupied Western Sahara partnering with Moroccan authorities and private sector and neither the companies nor their partners have consulted and obtained the consent of the Saharawis as required by international law. The companies intend to continue with these projects. Storebrand cannot via its investment contribute to a situation that can legitimize violation of international law. "