NETHERLANDS - Four Dutch pension asset managers, APG, PGGM, Mn Services and Robeco, are calling on companies active in Southern Sudan to actively contribute to a peaceful separation in the region.

The asset managers, all of which are members of the $2.1trn (€1.4trn) Sudan Engagement Group (SEG), made their appeal following a successful referendum on the issue of southern independence, held in Sudan in January.

Last year, representatives of the four organisations travelled to Sudan to speak with stakeholders and gain more insight in the role companies might play in the peace process.

Anna Pot, senior sustainability specialist at APG said: "We intend to exert influence as stakeholders to encourage companies to take the steps that are necessary to operate responsibly in North and South Sudan."

Companies should especially avoid becoming embroiled in new conflicts, she added.

"Also, it is important that the economic development triggered by the oil industry benefit the Sudanese people," she said.

Saskia van den Dool, senior adviser for responsible investment at PGGM, said: "In Sudan, we have seen that international companies can make an important contribution to developing the local economy, provided they operate in a responsible manner.

"That is why we helped develop clear guidelines for corporate responsibility in conflict areas - and these guidelines now serve as a basis for our dialogue with companies."

Kris Douma, head of responsible investing at Mn Services, stressed the importance that the oil industry would play in peaceful coexistence of the two countries.

"Companies active in the Sudan oil industry can play an important role in the peaceful separation process of North and South Sudan - for instance, by cooperating in achieving total transparency regarding, and fair distribution of, oil wealth," he said.

"In addition, companies can join forces to prevent escalation of the conflicts that will no doubt develop in the course of the separation process."

Lara Yacob, senior engagement specialist at Robeco, argued that companies in its portfolio were expected to use their influence wisely and be aware of their social responsibility.

"Whenever unwanted corporate behavior occurs, companies should act forcefully to put an end to such practices," she said. "They should also take adequate measures to establish controls that will prevent such unwanted practices from occurring in the future."

The Sudan Engagement Group comprises more than 20 international institutional investors.

SEG members call on companies operating in Sudan to "behave responsibly" and to actively contribute to reducing violations of human rights in the region.