Norway’s oil fund divests Chinese clothing brand over Uighur labour

Norway's sovereign wealth fund, the largest in the world, will sell off its stake in China's Li Ning over suspicions of forced labour use in the Xinjiang region, the fund's manager said.

People walk past a Li-Ning store in Beijing on October 2019
People walk past a Li-Ning store in Beijing on October 2019. File photo: WANG Zhao / AFP

Li Ning, a manufacturer and trader of sportswear and equipment, was singled out “due to unacceptable risk that the company contributes to serious human rights violations,” Norges Bank, the Norwegian central bank, said in a statement late on Monday.

The decision followed a recommendation from its Council on Ethics, which in an advisory opinion pointed to reports linking Li Ning to “a supplier said to manufacture inside an internment camp”.

China is accused of having interned more than a million Uighurs, a Muslim minority living in Xinjiang, in political re-education camps and exploiting them for forced labour.

At the end of 2021, the Norwegian fund, which was then worth 12,340 billionNorwegian kroner (1,264 billion euros), held 0.59 percent of Li Ning shares, valued at nearly 1.5 billion kroner, which it has now sold.

In contrast, it has removed South Korean textile group Hansae Yes24 and Taiwanese Nien Hsing Textile from its watch list — the step before companies are excluded – because it believed there was no longer reason to suspect systematic labour rights violations in their factories.

Meanwhile, it placed Canadian aircraft manufacturer Bombardier “under observation” over allegations of corruption in six countries over a period of more than ten years (2004-2016).

When it finalised the sale of its transport division to France’s Alstom in early 2021, Bombardier had issued a 250 million euro bank guarantee to the French company to cover expenses related to these cases, the ethics board noted.

Also placed under observation was India’s Adani Ports, because of its business dealings with the junta in Myanmar, and South Korea’s Hyundai Glovis, because of its activities involving the beaching of boats in Pakistan and Bangladesh where they are broken up for scrap.

Finally, the fund also removed San Leon Energy from its blacklist, as the Irish oil company had ended its incriminating activities in Western Sahara.

As one of the world’s largest investors, the Norwegian wealth fund — known as the oil fund — is governed by ethical rules that prohibit it from investing in companies involved in serious human rights violations, those that manufacture “particularly inhumane” or nuclear weapons, as well as coal and tobacco products.

READ ALSO: Norway’s oil fund says its Russia assets are down 90 percent

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Greenpeace activists block Russian oil tanker in Norway

Greenpeace activists in Norway blocked a Russian oil tanker from unloading its cargo near Oslo Monday, saying the shipment was helping to finance Russian President Vladimir Putin's "warfare". 

Greenpeace activists block Russian oil tanker in Norway

The Hong Kong-registered Ust Luga, leased by Russian oil company Novatek, is carrying 95,000 tonnes of fuel bound for Esso’s terminal in southeast Norway, Greenpeace said in a statement.

The tanker was coming from its namesake Russian city, near Saint Petersburg, according to the Marine Traffic website.

Greenpeace activists in a small boat chained themselves to the ship, while others in kayaks unfurled banners reading “oil fuels war,” the group said.

Some activists were stopped by police before they could take part in the action.

“I am shocked that Norway is operating as a free port for Russian oil, which we now is financing Putin’s warfare,” Frode Pleym, head of Greenpeace Norway, said in the statement.

According to a spokeswoman for Esso Norway, the shipment in question was not affected by Western sanctions against Russia imposed over its invasion of Ukraine. 

“The contracts were entered into before Russia invaded Ukraine,” Anne Fougner told newspaper Dagbladet.

“Esso Norway has no other contracts for products from Russia,” she added.

Although it is not a member of the European Union, Norway has matched almost all sanctions imposed by the EU on Moscow since March 18th.