Game changer as Norwegian Pension Fund adopts weapons and war crimes criterion

10 June 2021

This week, the Norwegian Parliament adopted a new ethical criterion on arms sales to guide the investments of the Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG).  Save the Children Norway and Future in our hands Norway, and German NGOs Urgewald and Facing Finance expect that the implementation of the new criterion will reduce the risk of complicity in possible war crimes for which arms companies are in part responsible. 

A significant game changer, says civil society 

The GPFG has been under fire for several controversial investments in weapons companies linked to the war in Yemen. Civil society in Norway and across the world have for years campaigned for a change in the Fund’s ethical framework, to allow the Fund to exclude unethical arms companies from its portfolio. The new criterion, which allows the Fund to exclude companies who sell weapons to countries who violate international humanitarian law, is therefore well received:

"The new criterion has the potential to be a significant game changer and contribute to increased respect for human rights. That an international investment giant like the Norwegian Oil Fund can exclude companies who sell weapons to countries who violate the rules of war, sends a strong signal to the arms industry that they must become more responsible with regards to who they supply weapons to, and how the weapons are used" says Birgitte Lange, CEO of Save the Children Norway

Fund still holds shares in companies whose weapons are used in the Yemen war 

Throughout the six-year long war in Yemen, the UN has documented numerous alleged violations of International Humanitarian Law from all parties to the conflict.[1]2. This includes violations using weapons produced and sold by companies in the Fund’s portfolio. There is currently evidence of numerous companies that continue to supply arms to the Yemen war. In the fall of 2018, Norway's Future in our Hands criticized the ethical oversight evidenced by the fund’s $USD 500 billion holding in the American company Raytheon, which supplied bombs to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. 

"In the case of Raytheon, the Funds' Ethical Committee said that they could not investigate or move to exclude the company due to the lack of a criterion. The same has held true for many other weapons companies who have supplied bombs, fighter jets and military equipment to the war in Yemen. It’s been as if the Fund has had blinders on when it comes to arms companies, We expect this new criterion to close this ethical gap." says Anja Bakken Riise, leader of Future in our hands Norway.

An analysis of the Fund’s 2020 investments, undertaken by Facing Finance and Urgewald, shows that the Fund continues to invest heavily in several arms companies that produce and sell weapons known to be used in the Yemen war. Companies such as Leonardo, Dassault, Raytheon Technologies Corp., Rheinmetall, Thales and General Dynamics are still in the Norwegian Pension Fund's portfolio. The investments made in these 6 companies alone amount to USD$ 1,87 billion

High expectations of tangible impact 

Following the Parliament’s move to adopt the new criterion, the Fund’s Ethical Council will now have to scrutinize weapons companies. 

"It is clear that the Fund must immediately divest from several arms companies following the adoption of the new criterion. The example of the current war in Yemen shows that comprehensive exclusion criteria for arms exporters to war zones is urgently needed to prevent further serious violation of IHL." says Barbara Happe of Urgewald. 

The Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global is one of world’s largest funds and has investments in over 9000 companies. On average, the Fund owns 1.5% of all shares in the world’s listed companies, in addition to its bonds and fixed income portfolio. The organizations expect both other investors and the arms companies themselves to refrain from supplying arms to warring states or financing this. 

"All financial service providers worldwide are now called upon to follow the example of the Norwegian Pension Fund Global and exclude from their portfolios companies that supply weapons to warring countries. No investor should finance such companies”, says Thomas Küchenmeister, Managing Director of Facing Finance. 

Further information: 

[1] In its third report on human rights in Yemen, titled ‘Yemen: A Pandemic of Impunity in a Tortured Land’ the UN Group of Experts on Yemen has concluded that indiscriminate attacks have been carried out by the Coalition, inflicting harm on civilians and civilian objects. It notes that disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks constitute war crimes under customary international law;