1. I have information about a case that I would like to make the Council aware of. How do I proceed?
The Council on Ethics depends on input from individuals, organizations and others. Please follow this link to access our contact information.
•Before contacting the Council, please check whether your query has already been answered here.
•It is more likely that allegations of violations by a company will be looked into if they are backed up by reliable information. We encourage everyone to refer to verifiable facts and sources whenever this is possible.
Please note that the Council is not a body for formal complaints and is not obligated to take action on complaints. However, the Council does appreciate information that may be of value to its work.
As the owner of the Fund, the Ministry of Finance is in charge of establishing the overall strategy for responsible investments and the criteria for exclusion of companies based on products and conduct. It is also the Ministry of Finance that appoints the Council members.
Norges Bank is the Fund’s operational manager and is responsible for the exercise of ownership rights.
The Council on Ethics monitors the Fund’s portfolio with a view to detecting whether companies should be excluded and submits recommendations for the exclusion and observation of specific companies to Norges Bank.
3. In brief, how can a company be excluded?
The Fund must avoid investments that constitute an unacceptable risk of contributing to serious breeches of its norms. The task of the Council on Ethics is to supervise the portfolio with a view to detecting whether companies should be excluded from the Fund and giving Norges Bank advice in this respect. If Norges Bank follows the Council’s recommendation, its shares or bonds in a given company will be sold, or the company will be plased under observation.
Practices that may lead to exclusion are stated in the Ethical Guidelines and include serious or systematic human rights violations, severe environmental damage, acts or omissions that on an aggregate company level lead to unacceptable greenhouse gas emissions, gross corruption, serious violations of the rights of individuals in situations of war or conflict, or other particularly serious violations of fundamental ethical norms.
4. What is product-based exclusion?
The majority of companies excluded from the Fund have been excluded because they produce certain products in contravention of the Ethical Guidelines. Companies that produce key components to weapons which violate fundamental humanitarian principles through their normal use are excluded from the Fund. This includes nuclear weapons, cluster weapons and anti-personnel landmines. Following the evaluation of the Ethical Guidelines in 2009, tobacco production has also been included as a criterion for exclusion. Companies that sell military equipment to the governments in certain states.
Since 2016, observation or exclusion may be decided for mining companies and power producers which themselves or through entities they control derive 30 per cent or more of their income from thermal coal or base 30 per cent or more of their operations on thermal coal.
5. Which factors are decisive for the exclusion of a company based on its conduct?
Individual companies may be excluded from the Fund if investing in the company could expose the Fund to an unacceptable risk of contributing to grossly unethical practices. The Council will, among other factors, assess:
•whether the violations fall within the scope of the Fund’s Ethical Guidelines;
•whether it is possible to establish a clear connection between the company’s practices and the violations;
•whether the violations may be regarded as isolated incidents or whether they constitute an indication of present and future practices;
•whether the violations are serious or systematic;
•whether the violations will lead to long-term or permanent damage to humans or the environment;
•whether there is sufficient documentation to substantiate allegations of violations; and
•whether the company has implemented measures to prevent or remedy the violations.
6. What criteria may form the basis for exclusion?
As mentioned in the Ethical Guidelines, the following will lead to the exclusion of a company from the Fund’s investment universe:
•production of weapons that violate fundamental humanitarian principles through normal use;
•sale of weapons or military material to the governments of certain sovereign states.
Also, mining companies and power producers which themselves or through entities they control derive 30 per cent or more of their income from thermal coal or base 30 per cent or more of their operations on thermal coal may be excluded.
Similarly, the following types of conduct may also lead to a company’s exclusion from the Fund:
•serious or systematic human rights violations such as murder, torture, deprivation of liberty, forced labour, the worst forms of child labour and other child exploitation;
•serious violations of the rights of individuals in situations of war or conflict;
•severe environmental damage;
•acts or omissions that on an aggregate company level lead to unacceptable greenhouse gas emissions;
•other particularly serious violations of fundamental ethical norms.
7. In how many companies is the Fund invested?
Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM) publishes the Fund’s holdings on its website annually.
8. Which companies are currently excluded from the Fund?
9. With more than 8 000 companies in the Fund’s portfolio, how does the Council on Ethics prioritize its work?
The Council on Ethics dedicates considerable resources to screening companies and gathering information about them. It has hired a consultancy firm to carry out daily internet-based news searches on all companies in the Fund’s portfolio. The consultant submits a monthly report to the Council with an overview of companies accused of severe environmental damage, contributing to human rights violations, corruption or other violations. Based on these reports, the Secretariat carries out a preliminary assessment of how serious or systematic the violations seem to be. Several companies are often accused of similar violations in the monthly reports. In order to identify the most serious violations, the Council attempts to see such cases in context. In addition to the monthly reports, the Council on Ethics receives enquiries from individuals or organizations requesting it to look into certain issues or individual companies. These requests are treated in the same way as information provided through the Council’s news searches. The more specific such requests are, the easier it is for the Council on Ethics to address them.
If a situation arises which indicates that the Council should be especially vigilant with regard to a particular sector or country, it may be appropriate to initiate an investigation that is not necessarily based on information about specific companies.
10. Why are companies not being excluded if they have been excluded by other investors?
The Council on Ethics evaluates the situation independently of other investors’ choices and must act in accordance with the Fund’s Ethical Guidelines. Other funds may have other guidelines. See question 6 for a description of possible factors on which the Council may base its assessments.
11. Why does the Council on Ethics not explain at what stage in the process a certain company is when being requested to do so by journalists and others?
The task of the Council on Ethics is to submit recommendations to Norges Bank. Even if the Council gladly receives input and information from individuals and advocacy groups, it does not normally comment on recommendations and procedures before any recommendation has been presented.
The Ministry of Finance has established that the Council on Ethics shall not comment on which companies it is assessing; see subsection 4.2.6 Public disclosure in relation to the Ethical Guidelines in Report no. 24 (2006-2007) to the Storting, ‘On the Management of the Government Pension Fund in 2006’.
There are several reasons why the Council on Ethics should be discreet when it comes to commenting on its work related to companies where no recommendation has been made public. Since statements issued by the Council on Ethics may be of significant importance to the company’s reputation and potentially also to the share price, the Council should only issue well-founded statements. Another reason why the Council is careful about making statements is that doing so may, in some cases, be perceived as a form of approval from the Council on Ethics regarding practices that are dubious but still do not reach the threshold for exclusion. This is also a question of setting priorities in relation to the Council on Ethics’ resources. Cases that will probably not lead to exclusion are put aside without generating any conclusive report suitable for publicising.
12. Is exclusion from the Fund permanent?
No. The Council on Ethics routinely assesses whether the grounds for the exclusion of a company are still valid. If new information indicates that the basis for exclusion has ceased to exist, the Council recommends revoking the exclusion.
13. What kind of sources does the Council on Ethics use when it investigates a company?
The Council on Ethics bases its work on a series of different sources. The main rule is that the information taken into account must be verifiable. In order to gather information the Council on Ethics often maintains contact with special interest groups, local and national authorities, international organizations, local and international experts and the company itself. Important information may include documentation such as research and scientific reports, legal sources, environmental impact assessments, reports from non-governmental organizations, the company’s own documents, etc. The Council on Ethics does not have a mandate to subpoena anyone or order the release of documents. In certain cases the Council on Ethics hires external specialists to carry out field studies or other studies if considered necessary to sufficiently document the violations.
In the Council’s recommendations the sources are generally cited; however, in certain cases they may be omitted in order to protect personal safety.
14. At what stage does the Council on Ethics contact the company?
A company that is being considered for exclusion shall be given the opportunity to present information and viewpoints to the Council on Ethics at an early stage of the process. In this context, the Council shall clarify to the company which circumstances may form the basis for exclusion. If the Council decides to recommend exclusion, its draft recommendation shall be presented to the company for comment.
The primary purpose of the Council on Ethics’ contact with a company is always to establish whether there are grounds for exclusion.
15. Why does the Council not recommend that, for example, more money should be invested in ‘green’ companies?
It falls outside the scope of the Council on Ethics’ mandate to issue recommendations as to where the Fund should invest. The Council is only required to submit recommendations regarding the observation of a company or its exclusion from the Fund.