Swiss energy firm BKW reforms investment policy as a result of OECD arbitration process involving Norwegian Indigenous communities
'Reindeer herders make Swiss energy firm reform investment policy', 30 August, 2021
After months of back and forth and four mediation meetings, Swiss NGO Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) reached an agreement this month with Swiss energy company BKW on the latter’s investment in a Norwegian wind power project. The project was threatening the livelihood of the local Sami indigenous community.
The Swiss company has accepted to revise its code of conduct and further develop its due diligence on third party projects. Importantly, BKW has agreed to introduce an opt-out clause in contracts with third parties. This will give it the option to withdraw its contractual commitments at any time if violations are identified and the partner does not address them satisfactorily.
“BKW will ensure that contractual partners focus on the observance of human rights in power plant projects and will include an option to exit projects as a last resort,” the company stated on August 26.
The decision to incorporate an opt-out clause could set a precedent in the industry. While the commitment made by BKW is too late to help the Sami reindeer herders, it could serve as a template for Swiss firms looking to invest or partner in energy and infrastructure projects abroad.
“The STP welcomes these first steps towards greater corporate responsibility as a clear signal to the entire energy sector and expects BKW to consistently apply these new instruments,” the NGO responded.
The group of indigenous Sami people in Norway had been fighting for years against the wind power project run by BKW that they claim would destroy their way of life. Storheia, the site of the biggest of six wind farms, is an important winter pasture for the reindeer herds of the Southern Sami people...
Despite an ongoing legal challenge by a section of the Sami community, the wind power project was approved and the Storheia wind farm became fully operational in February. The public inauguration ceremony for the last of six wind farms was held on August 12, even though the legal case is currently being heard at Norway’s highest court...