Margunn Bjørnholt, a sociologist and economist and the Director of Oslo Research (ORES), spoke on the Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global (the ‘Oil Fund’) from a human rights perspective at a side event on the financial crisis, the recession and human rights on 13 March 2014, during the session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW58) in New York. The event was organized by the International Alliance of Women (IAW), a leading human rights NGO with general consultative status with UN ECOSOC, and of which Bjørnholt is also a board member. The other speakers were Radhika Balakrishnan, executive director of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University, who spoke on the financialisation of the economy and the causes behind the financial crisis, and Joanna Manganara, the IAW President, who presented research on the consequences of the recession on women in Europe.

The investment management of the Norwegian Oil Fund from a human rights perspective

Norway is a strong protagonist for human rights internationally and in the UN. Norway was hardly affected by the financial crisis, partly as a result of successfull counter-cyclical economic policies after the crisis. Through its role as an investor, in particular through its sovereign wealth fund, the Government Pension Fund Global (the “Oil Fund”), which is based on the revenue from the Norwegian petroleum industry, Norway gained from the crisis, and was partly responsible for it through investments in the banks and financial institutions that caused the crisis. In 2007 the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund invested in a number of the financial institutíons that were involved in the subprime crisis, among them Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, Bank of America, Freddie Mac, and other main culprits in causing the crisis.

As a creditor Norway shares responsibility for the debt management in the Euro-zone, imposing harsh conditions on other European countries, which have had a devastating effect, in particular on women. Despite the adoption of ethical guidelines in 2004, and despite the fact that the fund has acted on them and has withdrawn from some companies and some industries, such as tobacco, the fund’s investments, including its recent engagement in real estate continue to receive criticism. Referring to Radhika Balakrishnan and Diane Elson’s framework for evaluating macro-economic policy according to the human rights, Bjørnholt raised the question of regulation and accountability at a more general level: asking how should a sovereign wealth fund be viewed and how should it be held to account? Do the human rights obligations apply for a state acting as a company in the global economy?