The manager of Norway’s NOK10.1trn (€970bn) sovereign wealth fund (SWF) has banished three companies from its portfolio on human rights grounds, but in the same announcement said it was holding on to major Asian oil and gas company PetroChina despite its own advisory council recommending divestment.

Norges Bank, the Norwegian central bank and manager of the Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG), said it has decided to exclude Taiwan-headquartered Formosa Chemicals & Fibre and its unit Formosa Taffeta Co, alongside Indian textiles firm Page Industries, because of alleged human rights violations related to textile production in Vietnam and India, respectively.

The bank said these exclusion decisions were made based on recommendations from the Council on Ethics – the GPFG’s advisory body.

The bank also announced that despite the council’s recommendations since 2016 to exclude PetroChina from the SWF’s portfolio, it had instead decided to follow the company’s work on anti-corruption as part of the fund’s active ownership efforts, for a period of three years.

“The executive board agrees with the Council on Ethics that observation no longer seems to be the appropriate action as the company is not responding to enquires from the council,” Norges Bank said, but added that it considered active ownership to be an alternative.

“The fund has regular dialogue with companies on anti-corruption issues, and can benefit from that experience in a dialogue with PetroChina Co Ltd,” the bank said.

A spokesman for NBIM told IPE that apart from exercising voting rights, the manager’s definition of active ownership also involves expectation documents and many forms of dialogue.

Explaining its recommendation to divest from PetroChina, the council said many senior executives at the firm and its subsidiaries had been accused of accepting bribes for the award of contracts to suppliers, and that the company had not shown that its efforts to prevent corruption were effective enough.

Regarding Formosa Taffeta, the council said investigations into working conditions at its factory in Vietnam had identified numerous labour rights violations.

Meanwhile, at Page Industries – which is licensed to produce clothing under the Jockey and Speedo brands – a probe into conditions at one factory identified many labour-rights violations, the council said.

It added that Page Industries had not provided any information to help clarify the case.

At the end of 2019, the GPFG had NOK1.4bn invested in PetroChina shares, representing a 0.17% holding in the company. It had NOK1.3bn invested in Formosa Chemicals & Fibre and NOK107.5m in the subsidiary Formosa Taffeta, according to Norges Bank data.

The fund had NOK134.9m invested in Page Industries at the end of last year – 0.42% of the Indian firm’s voting capital.

IPE was unable to get any reaction to the Norges Bank news from Formosa Chemicals & Fibre, Page Industries or PetroChina by deadline.

Exclusion return impacts

Exclusions led Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM) to miss out on 1.3 percentage points of return on an accumulated basis compared with an unrestricted equity benchmark in the period from its first exclusion in 2006 to the end of 2019, the manager revealed in a report this week.

It said this translated into an average annual performance of 0.04 percentage point for the equity portfolio during this period, noting that annual management costs for the SWF came to just under 0.05 of a percentage point last year.

The information was disclosed in a report charting how it became the single largest shareholder in the world and the evolution of restrictions on its investments – “This is the story of how we evolved from a reluctant to an active owner,” it said.

According to a graph in the report, the -1.3 percentage point return impact was for all types of exclusion. However, conduct-based exclusions had a positive effect, and coal-linked exclusions little impact.


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