We should do business like Norway

If you had $600 billion to invest in various businesses, how would you do it? Would you only invest in companies that provided a fair wage for factory workers? Or maybe only businesses that were environmentally friendly? The answer most of us would choose is whatever would make the most money. (Which would probably rule out fair wages and being environmentally friendly.)

Thankfully, Norway isn’t like most of us. Being fortunate enough to have a low population and high reserves in oil, the country has been flush with cash. So much cash that their government has a $600 billion pension fund to invest in various enterprises. (To put it in perspective, that fund is the largest single investor in Europe and the third largest in the world.) And how do they invest it? In companies that don’t violate “humanitarian principles” and “fundamental ethical norms.”

That sounds nice, but what does it really mean? For starters, Norway doesn’t support cluster weapons or landmines. Which means it had to divest from several American arms manufacturers. Companies that produce tobacco aren’t funded either. Other corporations have been removed for illegal logging, river pollution, and environmental abuses. There’s even a watch list for companies like Siemens, which is accused of gross corruption. (In most cases, Norway’s central bank tries to mediate concerns with the business before divesting.) The other big company that Norway has severed ties with is none other than Wal-Mart. In 2006, Norway purged itself of $430 million worth of shares from the retailer. The reason? Serious and systematic labor violations in numerous countries. As of 2012, the fund has stopped doing business with 40 corporations. Instead of sweatshops and pollutants, that money is being spent on things like solar panel production, and renewable energy research.

For a more capitalistic viewpoint on the Norwegian Fund, you should read this wikileaks memo. It was sent between diplomats who were fretting about whether or not ethical investing would hurt American companies. (Unless you’re Wal-Mart or a tobacco baron, it really hasn’t.)

Most of us don’t have that kind of money to invest. But we can decide to follow the Norwegian example and advance human rights and ethics with where we shop. By supporting the companies with good business practices, we punish the ones who misbehave. It won’t completely stop corruption, sweatshops, and environmental offenders, but it will cut into their bottom line. We should do business like Norway.

Bobbi Clemons Bobbi Clemons (26 Posts)

Bobbi Clemons is an an activist, pseudo-educator, and sometimes writer whose passion for all things geeky rivals her love of Norway.


  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=505574425 Sue Evans

    Nice article. U.S. investors might be interested in looking at Pax World.
    http://www.paxworld.com/

  • Dario

    Norwegians act as ethical people in the eyes of the world, but in Norway they are the least ethical. They mask themselves and their peasant moral standards under this disguise. Norwegians are extremely racist people, xenophobic, they hate foreign people. In Norway even if you are extremely qualified you can’t find a job unless you have a Norwegian name. And unless you are a lazy worker you are not a team player. So stop this bullshit about Norwegians. And their fund has lousy returns, since 1998 years a net annual return of like .20 %. It will be better if they put this $$ in the bank.