The Norwegian government pension fund has been accused of unethical investment in fertiliser companies that buy phosphate rock exported from Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara.
An October 6 report by the Norwatch news service revealed that companies linked to the fund buy two-thirds of all phosphate exported from the occupied country. It estimated the trade was worth about €535 million to Morocco in 2008.
Norwatch investigates if Norwegian businesses in developing countries act in accordance with human rights, labour rights, safety and environmental standards.
The fund's investments are in defiance of an earlier assessment by the fund's own Advisory Council on Ethics on the Western Sahara issue in 2005.
Jeanett Bergan, head of responsible investments for Norwegian investment firm KLP Kapitalforvaltning, told Norwatch the UN had declared the extraction of natural resources in an occupied country, including Western Sahara, unlawful.
"We therefore believe that companies that, despite this, purchase phosphate from the area can be associated with breaches of international human rights", she said.
This year, KLP sold its investments in two Australian fertiliser companies (Incitec Pivot and Wesfarmers) that have interests in Western Sahara.
Norwatch said the Norwegian Pension Fund had invested in eight fertiliser companies that import from Western Sahara as of the end of 2008.
The Western Sahara Resource Watch's Cate Lewis told Norwatch: "It is unethical to make money on this trade. The Norwegian Ministry of Finance has pointed out that the oil industry in Western Sahara both legitimises the occupation and sabotages the UN's peace process. They can hardly claim that there is anything different in this far-reaching phosphate collaboration."
Hans Corell, former Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs in the UN, agreed. "It is evident that if the phosphate trade continues without approval from the people of Western Sahara, it violates international law", he told Norwatch.
This raises questions for the Australian government too. What measures will it put in place with the Future Fund to ensure human rights obligations are not breached?