Oil fund may profit from Thai prawn slavery

Norway's oil fund may be forced to divest its 250m kroner stake in the Thai food company CP Foods, after the UK's Guardian newspaper reported that the company sources prawns from ships that employ slave labour.

According to Norway's Aftenposten newspaper, the Government Pension Fund of Norway, as the oil fund is known, holds a 0.54 percent stake in the company, making it one of the largest international shareholders. 
Thomas Sevang, a spokesman for Nordea, which manages the fund, said that any new information, such as that contained in the Guardian's article, could spark an internal investigation. 
"We do map the risk of child labour and slave labour for different countries and sectors and we are assessing that risk currently," he told The Local. "New information about companies or sectors may lead to independent assessments to verify information and get an overview of the risk." 
The Guardian's investigation revealed that hundreds of men, many from poorer countries such as Myanmar or Cambodia, are held against their will on fishing boats off the coast of Thailand, where they are beaten, tortured, and occasionally even executed. 
"I thought I was going to die," said Vuthy, a former monk from Cambodia who was sold from captain to captain, told The Guardian. "They kept me chained up, they didn't care about me or give me any food … They sold us like animals, but we are not animals – we are human beings."
The oil fund is barred from investing in companies where there is "an unacceptable risk that the company contributes to or is responsible for serious or systematic human rights violations  such as murder, torture, deprivation of liberty, forced labor and the worst forms of child labor."
Ola Mestad, the head of the independent Ethical Council which vets the oil fund's investments, said he was aware of some of the issues in the Thai industry. 
The Council is aware of criticism of the working conditions in the fishing industry in Thailand and allegations of forced labor, and are doing some research relating to this," he said. 

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Norway oil fund loses 18 billion euros in first half of 2020

Norway's huge sovereign wealth fund, the world's biggest, lost 188 billion kroner (18 billion euros, $21 billion) in the first half of the year as the global economy reels from the Covid-19 pandemic, the central bank said Tuesday.

Norway oil fund loses 18 billion euros in first half of 2020
Unusually empty slopes and ski lifts in Hemsedal in April. Photo: AFP

The fund, in which the Norwegian state's oil revenues are invested, was hit by plummeting share prices, with stocks accounting for 69.6 percent of its investments.

Its share portfolio posted a negative return of 6.8 percent in the first six months of the year.

At the end of June, the fund was valued at 10.4 trillion kroner (989 billion euros), up from the 9.98 trillion kroner seen at the end of the first quarter.

“The year started with optimism, but the outlook of the equity market quickly turned when the coronavirus started to spread globally,” the fund's deputy chief executive, Trond Grande, said in a statement.

“However, the sharp stock market decline of the first quarter was limited by a massive monetary and financial policy response,” he added.

Real estate investments, which represent 2.8 percent of the portfolio, also posted a negative return, of 1.6 percent, while bond investments, which account for 27.6 percent of assets, posted a gain of 5.1 percent.

“Even though markets recovered well in the second quarter, we are still witnessing considerable uncertainty,” Grande said.

The fund is meanwhile still mired in controversy over the appointment of a new chief executive.

Nicolai Tangen, a billionaire who founded the AKO Capital hedge fund in London, is due to take over the fund on September 1st, replacing Yngve Slyngstad who is retiring.

But critics have complained about Tangen's possible conflicts of interest, as well as his use of tax havens.

The central bank has meanwhile been criticised for irregularities in the recruitment process.

As a result, some major political parties are opposed to Tangen's appointment, and it remains up in the air.

READ ALSO: Norway's oil fund loses 1.3 trillion kroner ($125bn) in coronavirus crash