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Norway fund drops Israel companies over West Bank crisis
A Palestinian hurls stones at Israeli security forces last week during a protest near Nablus in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Photo: Reuters

(AF) Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, the world’s largest, has followed on its planned divestments in Myanmar with a decision to dump two companies involved in the development of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

The fund will end its holdings in the Israeli companies “due to unacceptable risk that the companies contribute to systematic violations of individuals’ rights in situations or war or conflict”, Norway’s central bank, which manages the fund, said.

“Israeli settlements in the West Bank have been built in violation of international law,” the Council of Ethics, the independent body that advises the fund on possible exclusions, said. “Their existence and constant expansion causes significant harm and disadvantage to the area’s Palestinian population.”

The companies affected are Shapir Engineering and Industry, a home builder, and Mivne Real Estate, which rents industrial premises in the Palestinian territory occupied by Israel.

More than 465,000 Israeli settlers now live in settlements in the West Bank — three times more than when the Oslo peace accords between Israel and the Palestinians were signed in the 1990s.

The oil fund was a relatively small owner in both companies, owning 0.1% of Shapir and 0.5% of Mivne at the end of 2019, with a joint value of $15 million.

BLACKLIST ADDITIONS

The fund, which has nearly 1.1 trillion euros in assets, also added a Japanese women’s clothing and accessories maker to its blacklist over worries of human rights abuses.

The fund’s ethics committee recommended the fund exclude Honeys Holdings after investigations found “numerous labour rights violations” at two factories that the company owns in Myanmar.

In practice the exclusions mean the fund has sold its stakes in the three companies and will not reinvest in them as long as the activities continue.

The fund, which holds equity stakes in 8,800 companies worldwide, is governed by a set of ethical rules that prohibit it from investing in companies guilty of serious human rights violations.

In March, the Norwegian central bank said it had put Japan’s Kirin Holdings on a watch list for possible exclusion over the beverage giant’s business ties to Myanmar’s military.

It has withdrawn investment from coal companies since 2015, and also shuns companies involved in making nuclear weapons or tobacco products.

With reporting by Agence France-Presse

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George Russell

George Russell is a freelance writer and editor based in Hong Kong who has lived in Asia since 1996. His work has been published in the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, New York Post, Variety, Forbes and the South China Morning Post.

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