Nick Shaxson ■ Norway’s oil fund: a minor victory for tax ethics
Norway’s Oil fund, which says it is worth $7.1 trillion Kroner last year (about US$860 billion at current exchange rates), is so important in world markets that a cottage industry of fund-watchers has sprung up. Several civil society bodies have sought to influence the fund, in particular to get it to invest in a more ethical and responsible way. Now Sigrid Klæboe Jacobsen, Director of Tax Justice Network – Norge, has written us a guest blog outlining a meaningful advance in this area.
Minor victory for tax ethics in the Norwegian Oilfund
On Monday the 30th May 2016 the Norwegian Parliament voted in favour of including tax ethics in the investments made by The Government Pension Fund Global (popularly called the Oilfund and managed by Norges Bank – NBIM). The Parliament has requested that the Oilfund produces an “expectation document” on tax for companies they invest in.
The good news is that this is the first time any measures in combatting tax havens and financial secrecy have been passed in relation to the Oilfund. The bad news is that the wording is very vague, so the “expectation document” might never see the light of day.
The wording of the parliamentary resolution reads as follows:
“Parliament requests the government to ask Norges Bank to consider developing an expectations document on tax for the companies they invest in.” (Emphasis added)
We believe the Parliament’s request must lead to an expectation document covering aggressive tax planning, the use of tax havens and the use of jurisdictions and structures that enable financial secrecy, such as shell companies and trusts.
Parliament has also decided that “alternative management and business models for the Pension Fund” shall be considered. There is no reference to whether this is linked to the oil fund subsidiaries in Luxembourg and Delaware, but it clearly should be.
All in all, a small step in the right direction – but still a very long way to go before Norway can be called an ethical investor.
We would also like to commend the minority who supported additional measures, which will be important building blocks for raising the bar in the Oil fund’s approach to tax ethics in future:
- “Parliament requests the Government to come back to Parliament with an assessment of the Fund’s operations in tax havens and how this can be restricted.” And “Parliament requests the government to ensure that unethical tax practices and tax evasion actively followed up in its owner dialogue NBIM.” (Supported by the Christian Democrats, the Central Party, The Liberals and The Socialist Left)
- “Parliament requests the Government to ensure that NBIM move its subsidiaries away from secrecy jurisdictions” and “Parliament requests the Government to ask NBIM notify the relevant tax authorities if NBIM discovers unethical tax practices among companies in the portfolio” and “Parliament requests the Government to ensure that unethical tax practices and tax evasion are embedded in the exclusion criteria of the ethical guidelines for the Fund. ” (The Socialist Left)
See TJN Norway’s hearing letter, including links to media coverage (in Nowegian)
TJN update: the oil fund contains some investments that we at TJN would take a very dim view of, in light of their offshore histories. Especially HSBC, UBS and Credit Suisse.
Now there’s a divestment campaign waiting to be had. With thanks to ?@submergingmkt for the reminder