Paul Donowitz, EarthRights International, firstname.lastname@example.org
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A new report released today by EarthRights International finds the Norwegian government violating it own ethical guidelines with USD $4.7 billion invested in 15 companies in Burma connected to killings, forced labor, land confiscation around their project sites.
New evidence and firsthand testimonies from inside Burma link companies in the Norwegian Government's investment portfolio to ongoing human rights abuses by the Burmese Army on behalf of the companies and their projects, putting Norway in violation of its own Ethical Guidelines for responsible investment.
The 40-page report, entitled Broken Ethics: The Norwegian Government's Investments in Oil and Gas Companies Operating in Burma (Myanmar), draws heavily on clandestine investigations from inside Burma from 2008 - 2010. The report documents how the Norwegian Pension Fund-Global (Fund) - the world's second largest sovereign wealth fund, and a repository of the Norwegian peoples' oil wealth - has USD $4.7 billion invested in 15 oil and gas companies operating in Burma. The report documents how the companies are associated with grave abuses and an unreasonably high risk of future abuses. This puts the Fund in direct violation of its own standards for responsible investment and makes the Government of Norway complicit in the human rights abuses, according to EarthRights International, citing Norway's own standards of complicity.
"Land confiscation, forced labor, and other abuses are happening now in connection to several large gas and oil pipeline projects in Burma," according to EarthRights International 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. The new Shwe gas and oil pipelines to China are already linked to land confiscation and persecutions and are likely to contribute to renewed civil war in Shan State," he added. According to the report, the new pipelines will be constructed through politically contested territories in Shan State that are currently administered by non-state ethnic armies. The project is already under construction in Arakan State in western Burma.
"We have no rights to speak out. Anytime they can do anything to us," said one ethnic villager in Arakan State quoted in the report, whose land was confiscated in 2010 for the Shwe gas pipeline project. The Fund has over USD $450 million invested in seven companies involved in the Shwe project, according to the report.
The report explains Norway's standards to ensure its government is not complicit in serious abuses by companies in which it invests. In 2004, after a determined struggle by civil society and politicians, Norway established the Ethical Guidelines, a set of standards used to evaluate the ethics of the Fund's investments. If the government-appointed Council on Ethics determines a company's activities contribute to human rights 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 the Ministry of Finance either observe or exclude the company from the Fund.
"This report presents a distinct opportunity for Norway to do what is intended by its Ethical Guidelines," said Matthew Smith, Senior Consultant with EarthRights International and an author of the report. "Now is the time for the Council on Ethics to recommend that the Ministry of Finance act on these companies and restore Norway to its position as a global leader in ethical investment," he added.
EarthRights International refers to Norway's standards as "clear, appropriate, and comprehensive." Nevertheless, the report chronicles the Council's previous assessments of the Fund's investments in companies operating in Burma, and its past failures to take effective action. The report explains that in 2005 the Council recommended against excluding from the Fund the French oil company Total, operator of the Yadana gas pipeline, on the grounds that violent abuses in connection to the company's pipeline occurred in the past but were not continuing.
EarthRights International, however, continues to document widespread forced labor and other violations by the Burmese Army on behalf of Total and its partners. In five of the last ten years, EarthRights International has documented targeted extrajudicial killings of villagers in the project area by Burmese Army battalions providing security for the Yadana pipeline, and the Yetagun pipeline that runs alongside it. The Fund has USD $3.6 billion invested in five companies involved in the Yadana and Yetagun projects.
The report also explains that in a 2007 letter to the Norwegian Ministry of Finance, the Council on Ethics stated that if a company had an agreement with the Burmese authorities to construct new pipelines in Burma, that alone would be grounds for a company's exclusion from the Fund, due to the high risk of negative human rights impacts. According to EarthRights International's report, at least seven companies in the Fund's portfolio are presently involved in new pipeline construction in Burma.
"The Council's inaction on the Fund's holdings in these companies puts the Norwegian people in an inconvenient position of complicity in grave human rights abuses in Burma," said EarthRights International's Matthew Smith. "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," he added.
"The Burmese regime has long demonstrated itself as an unsuitable business-partner", says Norway-based Steve Gumaer, the co-founder and International Executive Director of the humanitarian aid-organization Partners Relief & Development. "Business ventures conducted through official channels in Burma directly support the regime's abuse of the ethnic populations and pro-democracy citizens in Burma today," Gumaer added. "It is said that villages in North-Eastern Burma have benefitted by this sort of ‘economic engagement.' I have seen the devastating results; instead of schools, health & hygiene programs, and other community-development projects, are the ashes of villages that have been burned down. I have talked to women who were raped, men who were forced to serve as porters. I have heard first-hand accounts of brutal murders of anyone unwilling to go along with the regime's industrial or private business deals." Partners Relief & Development stands with ERI in calling on the Council on Ethics to reconsider its position on companies operating in Burma's extractive sector.
EarthRights International (ERI) is a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization that combines the power of law and the power of people in defense of human rights and the environment. Focusing on earth rights, we work at the intersection of human rights and the environment. We specialize in fact-finding, legal actions against perpetrators of earth rights abuses, training for grassroots and community leaders, and advocacy campaigns that seek to end earth rights abuses and promote and protect earth rights.