The socially responsible sovereign wealth fund

Here's a tip for China, Abu Dhabi and Singapore: Norway's investment strategy is truly radical. It's ethical.

By Andrew Leonard
January 17, 2008 3:53AM (UTC)
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Reuters reports that Norway's Government Pension Fund -- Global -- one of the world's largest sovereign wealth funds controlling assets worth $380 billion -- is considering whether to step up its efforts to ensure that it only invests its oil money in "ethical ways" ways. On review: the gambling, sex and tobacco industries. Also possible: more investment in green technologies.

The fund already excludes some 25 entities, mostly arms manufacturers and corporations guilty of grievous environmental crimes. But human rights are also a criterion. In 2005, the fund sold its Wal-Mart stake, stating in a press release:


An extensive body of material indicates that Wal-Mart consistently and systematically employs minors in contravention of international rules, that working conditions at many of its suppliers are dangerous or health-hazardous, that workers are pressured into working overtime without compensation, that the company systematically discriminates against women in pay, that all attempts to unionize by the company's employees are stopped, that employees are in a number of cases unreasonably punished and locked in, along with a number of other circumstances...What makes this case special is the sum total of ethical norm violations, both in the company's own business operations and in the supplier chain.

Depending on whether you count Singapore, Norway is the only democratic country with a significant size sovereign wealth fund. It is widely considered to be a model for "best practices" in the sovereign wealth fund world. What that usually means is that Norway's investment decisions and allocations are "transparent" -- outsiders know exactly where Norway is putting its money. But imagine if global best practices for sovereign wealth funds came to include Norway's socially responsible investment guidelines? How the World Works asked, in Tuesday's look at sovereign wealth funds, "Why can't everybody be more like Norway?" We had no idea how much we really meant it.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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China Globalization How The World Works Wal-mart