Norway’s Divestment Experience

Persuading a Government Fund to Divest from Nuclear Weapons Producers

Pia A. Gaarder heads the ethics and business section of the Norwegian chapter of the Future in Our Hands. Here she describes the campaign for nuclear divestment in Norway.


ICAN: How have you promoted nuclear divestment in Norway?

Pia Gaarder (PG): In 1995 my organization, Future in Our Hands, initiated a project to scrutinize private and public Norwegian investments in developing countries, as well as export and import ethics – or the lack thereof. In 1999 we started to look into the investment portfolio of the Norwegian Government Pension Fund (SPU), with a focus on its investments in weapon-producing companies.

In 2001 the Socialist Left Party – an opposition party in the Norwegian parliament at that time – disclosed that the SPU owned shares in a producer of landmines. The Norwegian government had been one of the leading actors in the process that led to the signing of the Landmine Convention in 1997, and the fact that the SPU – a fund owned and managed by the government – invested in the production of these weapons was a shock and an eye-opener to many.

ICAN: What was the government’s response to this revelation?

PG: The SPU withdrew its investments from landmine production and the Ministry of Finance established the International Law Council. This body was assigned the task of scrutinizing and monitoring the investments of the SPU in order to ensure that they were in line with Norway’s international legal obligations.

However, when in 2002, after months of research, we could demonstrate that the SPU, through its investments in Lockheed Martin and Honeywell, was financially involved in the production of nuclear weapons, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs dismissed our claim by arguing that nuclear weapons were not in conflict with international law.

We allied ourselves with a leading Norwegian newspaper and some key politicians in the Norwegian parliament. Pushed by a wave of attention and negative publicity, the government finally had to give in. The Norwegian parliament decided to establish a committee assigned with the task of exploring the ethical guidelines for the SPU, which led to the establishment of the Ethical Council in 2004. Consequently, SPU decided to divest from producers of both nuclear weapons and cluster munitions, although there were no international conventions banning these weapons.

ICAN: What lessons did you learn from this experience?

PG: In our view, our divestment campaign demonstrates the potential of this kind of campaigning – if done accurately and with a critical eye to details and references. The government needs the investments of the SPU to be perceived as legitimate in the eyes of the Norwegian population. When they are not, as was clearly demonstrated in 2002, it became politically impossible for the government not to divest, or in this case not to start the process that made divestment possible.

For private actors it is probably not only a question of reputation, but also a question of market shares. If they offer people a fund portfolio that, for ethical reasons, people are reluctant to buy, they will lose out to other financial institutions.

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written by

Australian director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons
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