Norway Breaks With International Retail and Mining Companies

June 6, 2006 ( - Government Pension Fund-Global, which is managed by the central bank of Norway, said Tuesday that it broke its ties with two more companies in which the multi-billion oil fund used to own shares, bringing the number of stocks that it leaves out of the fund because of "ethical reasons" to 19.

The pension fund has shut out companies involved in producing anti-personnel land mines, cluster bombs and nuclear weapons, Reuters reported.

According to Reuters, the pension fund disassociated itself with Wal-Mart and mining group Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold because, as Finance Minister Kristin Halvorsen said in a statement, “in view of [these companies’] practices, investing in them entails an unacceptable risk that the fund may be complicit in serious, systematic or gross violations of norms.”

The Finance Ministry said the fund’s ethical council reported that “an extensive body of material” suggesting that Wal-Mart had violated human and labor rights, including employing minors against international rules, offering employees hazardous working conditions and not allowing workers to form unions, Reuters reported, as well as discriminating against women and working overtime without compensation.

The council analyzed working conditions in the United States and Canada, as well as its suppliers in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Lesotho, Kenya, Uganda, Namibia, Malawi, Madagascar, Swaziland, Bangladesh, China and Indonesia to come to its conclusion to disengage its funds from Wal-Mart stocks.

In the US, Wal-Mart recently settled a multi-million dollar lawsuit with three female employees who filed a discrimination suit against the company because, they allege, their manager and supervisor sexually and racially abused them (See  Two Companies Settle Discrimination Suits with EEOC .)

Nine Mexican immigrants who worked as janitors at Wal-Marts in New Jerseysued the company, alleging that Wal-Mart failed to pay overtime, withhold taxes and make required workers’ compensation contributions, according to the New York Times. 

The plaintiffs were among 250 people arrested in an October 23 federal immigration raid and who now face deportation for being in the country illegally, and they also accuse retailer and its contractors of discriminating against them by giving them lower wages and fewer benefits than other workers because of their national origin. The immigrants said in the lawsuit that their managers knew they were illegal immigrants (See  NewsDash – November 10 .)

The Norwegian fund dropped its shares in Freeport-McMoRan because it contended that the mining company used a natural river system on the island of New Guinea in Indonesia to dispose of tailings, extracted material, from a copper mine, according to Reuters. The Norwegian council found that the mining company caused environmental damage that is “extensive” and “irreversible,” according to the ministry.

Freeport-McMoRan denies this allegation and the company’s spokesman, William Collier, said the tailings were not toxic and Freeport-McMoRan told this to the pension fund. Collier said the fund’s accusation “reflects a misunderstanding,” according to Reuters.