On 29 June 2023, the Council on Ethics recommended to exclude the company Sumitomo Corp from investment by the Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG) due to an unacceptable risk that the company is contributing to serious violation of the rights of individuals in situations of war and conflict. The recommendation relates to the company’s telecom operations in Myanmar.
Sumitomo is a Japanese conglomerate with one of its business areas being digital services. The company is partner in a joint venture which has a Joint Operation Agreement with Myanma Posts and Telecommunications (MPT). Sumitomo provides expertise and advice relating to sales and marketing and the expansion of MPT’s network.
On 1 February 2021, the armed forces in Myanmar staged a military coup. Since the coup, the military has intensified its gross abuses against the civilian population. Telecoms operators in Myanmar have been ordered to install and activate spyware and surveillance software. It is known that the surrender of personal data has enabled political monitoring of human rights activists, political opponents and other individuals.
Although Sumitomo plays no direct role in the surveillance, the Council presumes that the company is aware that MPT has installed and activated tools. There is a considerable risk that MPT will continue to surrender customer data that will enable serious abuses to be perpetrated on the civilian population. The Council concludes that as long as Sumitomo’s partnership with MPT persists, the risk of the company contributing to the violation of the rights of individuals in situations of war or conflict will remain at an unacceptable level.
On 18 December 2023, Norges Bank decided to place Sumitomo Corp under observation, and has asked the Council to follow developments in the case.