Norway Complicit in Human Rights Abuses in Burma

Multi-Billion Dollar Investments Supporting Abuse, Fueling Military Regime

The Government of Norway is complicit in natural-resource related human rights abuses in Burma, according to an explosive new report released today by EarthRights International (ERI).  

The 40-page publication, entitled Broken Ethics: The Norwegian Government’s Investments in Oil and Gas Companies Operating in Burma (Myanmar), documents how the Norwegian Pension Fund-Global (Fund) has USD $4.7 billion invested in 15 oil and gas companies from eight countries operating in Burma. The report finds these companies complicit in abuses such as forced labor, killings, and land confiscation in Burma, putting Norway in violation of its own Ethical Guidelines for responsible investment. The Norwegian Fund is the world’s second largest sovereign wealth fund and the repository of the Norwegian peoples’ excess oil and natural gas wealth.  

ERI Senior Consultant Matthew Smith, an author of the report, was in Olso on Wednesday, December 15, 2010 to speak at a press conference to announce the report’s release. “This report presents a distinct opportunity for Norway to do what is intended by its Ethical Guidelines,” Smith said. “The Norwegian peoples’ money is invested in corporate human rights abuses while the Ethical Guidelines go unapplied. The ethics are broken but not beyond fixing.”  

In 2004, Norway established the Ethical Guidelines to evaluate the ethics of the Fund’s investments, later establishing the Council on Ethics to interpret the Guidelines and screen companies to ensure the Fund avoids complicity in negative impacts of the companies in which it is invested. If the Council determines a company in the Fund’s portfolio contributes to human rights or environmental violations, or grossly unethical actions, or if there is an unreasonably high likelihood that the company’s activities will contribute to future abuses, then the Council is mandated to recommend that the Norwegian Ministry of Finance either observe or exclude the company from the Fund. 

With this report, ERI essentially screened 15 companies for the Council and found that the Fund’s holdings in the companies put it in violation of the Ethical Guidelines.  

Also speaking at the report release press conference was Norway-based Steve Gumaer, co-founder and International Executive Director of the humanitarian aid organization Partners Relief & Development. Gumaer, who has years of experience working with communities inside Burma noted that, “The Burmese regime has long demonstrated itself as an unsuitable business partner,” while reiterating ERI’s call for Norway to apply its Ethical Guidelines. 

Broken Ethics relies heavily on clandestine investigations by EarthRights International in Burma over the last three years.  It presents new firsthand testimonies and evidence of human rights abuses connected to the controversial Shwe gas and oil transport pipelines currently under construction, and the notorious Yadana and Yetagun pipelines. 

“Land confiscation, forced labor, and other abuses are happening now in connection to several large gas and oil pipeline projects in Burma,” said ERI Program Coordinator Naing Htoo, an author of the report. “There’s every indication abuses connected to these projects will continue, and in some cases worsen,” he added. 

Norway is the global leader in ethical investment. The Council on Ethics’ recommendations and the Ministry of Finance’s decisions regarding the ethics of its investments carry enormous influence in the international investment community, often affecting the behavior of corporations.