GLOBAL – The roughly SEK175.8bn (€19.2bn) Third Swedish National Pension Fund (AP3) has not ruled out withdrawing its equity investment in Yahoo! following reports implicating the global online network in human rights violations.

The move could see the scheme disinvest close to 300,000 shares.

“That’s too early to say [whether AP3 will disinvest its_shares], but something we will discuss depending on the outcome of the dialogue,” a scheme spokesperson told IPE.

In a letter to Yahoo! at the end of June, AP3 requested dialogue with Yahoo! following reports from its socially responsible investment provider about allegations that Yahoo! supplied information leading to the detention of Chinese journalist Shi Tao.

According to news sources, Yahoo! allegedly cooperated with China’s state security authorities, which ultimately led to Tao receiving a 10-year jail sentence for sending information about a Communist Party decision through his Yahoo! email account to a US-based website.

“We consider the reported associations as highly worrying due to our investment in Yahoo!,” wrote AP3 corporate governance head Pernilla Klein.

The scheme’s ethical investment policy – based on international agreements signed by Swedish government – strives to avoid investment in companies that breach these norms.

“The Third Swedish National Pension Fund has a firm belief that companies have a responsibility to respect human rights wherever they operate,” said Klein.

“In light of this, we would like to discuss your policies and programmes in place, and more specifically their reference to human rights, in order to evaluate Yahoo’s efforts to prevent any future occurrences of this kind. We would also be interested in discussing other possible steps Yahoo! may have taken to prevent complicity to violations of human rights.”

AP3 told IPE that it has yet to hear from Yahoo!. Meanwhile, Yahoo! did not respond to requests for comment from IPE.

According to Julien Pain, head of the Internet freedom desk at press freedom group Reporters Without Borders, “It’s important that this Swedish fund launched this initiative.”

Pain was speaking against the backdrop of a joint investor statement on freedom of expression and the Internet launched by Reporters Without Borders late last year.

Under this initiative, some 32 investment funds and financial analysts with roughly €19bn in assets under management have stated they are committed to online freedom of expression, and will monitor the activities of Internet sector companies in repressive countries.

These include the Calvert Group, Boston Common Asset Management, Belgian-based Ethibel, and French-based Meeschaert Asset Management.

The targeted companies are Yahoo!, Google, Microsoft, Cisco Systems, Secure Computing and Fortinet.

According to Pain, while signing up to the statement is an important first step, “we are also asking them to move forward and write letters to the CEO’s of these companies as this Swedish fund did AP3, and also draft shareholder resolutions”.

“We want more funds involved. Not only to sign on the statement but also take action,” said Pain. He added: “We would like to have more mainstream investment funds on board because obviously they carry more weight.”

Later today in a plenary session, the European Parliament is scheduled to debate on cases of breaches of human rights, democracy and the rule of law regarding the freedom of expression on the Internet.