The Ministry of Finance today adopted two new guidelines for responsible investment practices in the Government Pension Fund Global. “The new guidelines represent follow-up of the evaluation of the ethical guidelines for the Fund that was completed in 2009,” says Minister of Finance Sigbjørn Johnsen. “We retain several important elements from the ethical guidelines, as well as introducing a number of new measures.”
In 2009, the Ministry of Finance conducted a broad evaluation of the ethical guidelines, receiving more than 50 consultative comments. The general conclusion was that the ethical guidelines had worked well and could largely be continued. With a view to bolstering the Fund’s responsible investment practices, the Ministry of Finance also announced plans to introduce a number of new measures and changes linked to active ownership and exclusion of companies.
The ethical guidelines from 2004 are being replaced by two new sets of guidelines: one on work linked to exclusion and observation of companies and one for Norges Bank’s work on responsible management and exercise of ownership rights.
“Production of tobacco has been introduced as a new criterion for exclusion, and we have already followed up the Council on Ethics’ recommendations to sell our holdings in tobacco producing companies,” says Minister of Finance Sigbjørn Johnsen.
In some cases, it is more useful to put a company under observation than to exclude; for example, if there is uncertainty about how the situation will develop. We monitor the companies that have been placed on this watch-list closely to see if they implement measures to remedy the situation before we make a final decision on whether to exclude the company or not,” says Johnsen.
The new guidelines enable a slightly broader assessment of the situation before a company is excluded on grounds of grossly unethical behaviour. The Ministry will in this context consider use of other measures. For example, this may be relevant if active ownership or observation might reduce the risk of continued violations of norms or for some other reason is deemed more appropriate.
“We are increasingly attaching importance to Norges Bank’s active ownership,” says Minister of Finance Sigbjørn Johnsen. The new guidelines for Norges Bank include a new, ambitious requirement of generally integrating considerations of good corporate governance and environmental and social issues into investment activities. This reflects international developments, says the Minister of Finance.
Norges Bank participates in a variety of formal and informal initiatives in collaboration with other investors. The new guidelines emphasise the importance of this by stipulating that the bank actively contribute to development of good international standards within responsible investment practice and exercise of ownership rights. New requirements have also been defined regarding transparency and reporting in Norges Bank.
“In addition to the new guidelines, we are also well underway with implementation of other measures that were decided in connection with the evaluation,” says Minister of Finance Sigbjørn Johnsen. “These include an environmental investment programme and a major research project on climate change and its possible impacts on the financial markets. The Ministry of Finance has also signed the UN Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), which Norges Bank has helped develop and has signed.”