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26 Jun 2024

Norges Bank Investment Management (Norway)

Decisions on observation, exclusion and active ownership

...the Executive Board has decided to ask Norges Bank Investment Management to follow up the companies Bolloré SE and Compagnie de l'Odet SE through the exercise of ownership rights. The Council on Ethics has recommended that companies be excluded due to an unacceptable risk that the companies contribute to or are responsible for serious human rights violations, cf. the conduct-based criterion in section 4 (a) of the Guidelines for Observation and Exclusion from the Government Pension Fund Global.

The decisions are based on a recommendation from the Council on Ethics dated 19 March 2024. The basis for the recommendation is poor working conditions, gender-based violence and harassment on palm oil plantations in Cameroon and consequences for the local community. The norm violations are related to the activities of the company Société Financière des Cautchoucs (Socfin), which has close links with Compagnie de l'Odet SE and Bolloré SE, and in which Bolloré SE is a significant shareholder. The Council on Ethics' assessment is that the companies are thereby contributing to Socfin's norm violations.

According to the guidelines, Norges Bank shall assess whether other measures, including the exercise of ownership rights, may be better suited to reduce the forward-looking risk of norm violations or may be more appropriate for other reasons. The Executive Board is of the opinion that active ownership in this case can be an appropriate measure.

Human rights are a priority ownership topic for Norges Bank Investment Management, where the fund has clear, public expectations that companies should conduct due diligence assessments and prevent and manage human rights risks in their value chain. This means that companies should have policies in place to respect human rights in their own operations, in supply chains and in other business relationships, as well as adequate systems for detecting, preventing and managing human rights risks...

The fund’s expectations are based on international standards such as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The matters referred to in the Council on Ethics' recommendation are known to the companies.

The companies also recognise the obligation to carry out due diligence. Like the Council on Ethics, the Executive Board assumes that the companies have sufficient influence over the plantation companies. The Executive Board also notes that legislation in the EU which will require companies to carry out due diligence in the value chain may facilitate improvement in the company's practices in the future and provide a good basis for ownership dialogue.

Against this background, the Executive Board of Norges Bank has asked Norges Bank Investment Management to follow up the management of human rights risks, working conditions and sexual harassment with Compagnie de l'Odet SE and Bolloré SE over a period of up to two years. Through its active ownership, Norges Bank will work to reduce the risk of future norm violations through improved systems and adequate value chain measures on the part of companies.