THE BLOG

If Norway Is a 'Human Rights Superpower', It Must Act on Peru

03/04/2014 13:09 BST | Updated 02/06/2014 10:59 BST

It sounds good, doesn't it, a Council on Ethics established by a Finance Ministry to investigate if companies violate ethical guidelines and, if the answer is yes, to recommend the government divests?

But what if the process isn't transparent, or the Council's recommendations can be ignored for however long, or the company pulls out of whatever operations deemed to violate the guidelines before the recommendation is heeded and divestment can take place?

That, more or less, is what appears to be happening in Norway. In 2008 the Finance Ministry's Council on Ethics started investigating oil and gas company Repsol because of its operations in the Amazon in northern Peru in an area inhabited by indigenous people living in 'voluntary isolation.' According to NGO Rainforest Foundation Norway, a broadcast by Norway's largest commercial TV channel, TV2, and Norwegian politician Hans Olav Syversen, among others, the Council's response was to recommend that the 'Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG)' - situated within the Finance Ministry - should divest from Repsol because of the threats posed by its operations to the indigenous people in that part of Peru.

That recommendation was made, according to these sources, in either 2010 or 2011.

And then? Nothing.

Roll on a couple of years. As of 31 December 2012, the GPFG's holdings in Repsol stood at 1.7 billion Norwegian kroner - just under US$300 million at current exchange rates.

And then? According to TV2 reporter Kadafi Zaman, 'the Council upheld its conclusions in another internal report to the Ministry' in June 2013.

And then? Repsol started to pull out. A Peruvian government report dated November 2013 revealed that Repsol is selling its stake in Lot 39, as the offending concession investigated by the Council is known.

'The process hasn't finished yet and will take a few more months,' said a company source last month confirming the sale.

What are the chances that the Ministry will heed the Council's recommendation and divest from Repsol before Repsol leaves? Says a source from the Council:

'There is little I can say about the work we have done on Repsol or the outcome of the case, as this is confidential information. In general, and as stated on our website, it is up to the Ministry to decide when a recommendation shall be made public.'

If Norway is or wants to be a 'human rights superpower' - a term used by the president of the New York-based Human Rights Foundation, Thor Halverssen, among others - then it must act on Peru's Lot 39 and set what would be a significant precedent for indigenous peoples' rights.