In the 18th century, a British navigator sailing past Nauru - a tiny island some 1,800 miles northeast of Australia – named it Pleasant Island. Now, in the 21st century, Australia is transferring asylum seekers to a detention camp on what was formerly known as Pleasant Island – now an independent nation with a population of 10,000 people –drawing harsh criticism over alleged abuse of the refugees’ human rights.
Earlier this year, Spanish conglomerate Ferrovial acquired a majority stake in Broadspectrum, the Australian company that runs offshore detention camps at Nauru and on Manus Island in northern Papua New Guinea. Although Ferrovial has said that “this activity will not form part of its services offering in the future”, the Spanish group, which has an indirect stake in London’s Heathrow Airport, has come under severe criticism by human rights activists after recent reports of assaults, sexual assaults and abuse of asylum seekers held at detention centers. Broadspectrum itself has said that it is aware of the documents chronicled by The Guardian and has recorded, investigated and reported all alleged incidents to all relevant stakeholders, including the Government of Nauru.
In this highly controversial human-rights tragedy, there’s a tiny role for Norway’s giant oil fund, the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, which held 1.71 percent of Ferrovial - worth US$283.3 million as of the end of 2015. Norges Bank Investment Management, which runs the Government Pension Fund Global, has a lengthy list of companies excluded from its investment universe because they either produce environmental and health-damaging goods, cause environment risks or violate human rights or ethical norms. Just last week, the oil fund dumped Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK) from its investments over environmental concerns.
Australia’s human rights groups GetUp and The Human Rights Law Centre published a report in July slamming “Ferrovial’s business in abuse” and called upon the Spanish group and its shareholders to “take immediate action to end the business relationships that associate them with the gross human rights abuses being perpetrated at the ODCs.” But Norway’s oil fund is still hanging onto its stake.
“Based on our examination of the facts, it is possible that individual officers at Ferrovial might be exposed to criminal liability for crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute,” Diala Shamas, a clinical supervising attorney at the International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic at Stanford Law School, has told The Guardian.
This may put further pressure on the Norwegian oil fund, which has not yet officially published updates regarding its Ferrovial investment on its website, or on its Council on Ethics website, in what seems like a contradiction to its principles of dropping morally or environmentally undesirable investments. Related: Is China Deliberately Trying To De-Rail The Russia/Saudi Oil Deal?
But Norwegian newspaper VG says that the fund’s head of communication and external relations, Thomas Sevang, wrote in an e-mail to the paper that the oil fund had informed the Council on Ethics about its stake in Ferrovial. The fund expects the companies to respect human rights in their business, Sevang wrote to VG, which is precisely why the oil fund sold off its stake in Broadspectrum in November 2015.
Unfortunately, the fund also held a 2.17 percent stake in Ferrovial as of the end of 2014, so when Ferrovial bought Broadspectrum in the spring of this year, the oil fund ended up once again being a shareholder of a company that runs the controversial camps.
Meanwhile, the Australian government and Amnesty International are exchanging retorts over the controversy, with Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection saying that “many of the incident reports reflect unconfirmed allegations or uncorroborated statements and claims - they are not statements of proven fact”.
While Amnesty is calling upon Australia “not to smear the vulnerable refugees” and says that “Australia is going to have to end this shameful chapter of its history and resettle these refugees”.
While criticism, controversies and campaigns are raging, the Norwegian oil fund now has the chance to decide to pull out of its investment in Ferrovial and show the world it is sticking to its self-imposed ethics guidelines.
By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com
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