On the hunt for unacceptable companies for the Council on Ethics

As the owner of Ferd, Johan H. Andresen is always on the hunt for good investment opportunities. As Chair of the Council on Ethics for the Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global, he is on the hunt for unacceptable companies. “It’s a challenging role from a management perspective and intellectually stimulating. The combination of the two is very rewarding”, he comments.

The Council on Ethics was set up by the Norwegian Government in 2004. It is independent and its role is to monitor the investments made by the Government Pension Fund Global, which is more commonly known as the Oil Fund. Its remit is to consider whether the Oil Fund’s investments contravene the Fund’s ethical guidelines.

The guidelines stipulate that the Fund should not, for example, invest in companies that manufacture inhumane weapons or tobacco, nor in businesses that are responsible for serious or systematic human rights violations, serious environmental damage or gross corruption. It was recently decided that the Oil Fund should not invest in companies that derive 30% or more of their revenues from coal power or coal mining.

New members of the Council
Johan H. Andresen took over as the Chair of the Council on Ethics on 1 January 2015. He emphasises that he was not involved in choosing the Council’s members, all of whom were also appointed last year. The Council’s members are now proposed by Norges Bank and appointed by the Ministry of Finance. The Council on Ethics also has a secretariat consisting of eight people to investigate and prepare all issues considered by the Council.

“It is a great pleasure for a novice like me to work with such a skilled and experienced team”, comments Johan H. Andresen.

The other members of the Council are: Hans Christian Bugge, Professor Emeritus at the University of Oslo, Cecilie Hellestveit, an attorney with a doctorate in humanitarian law, Arthur Sletteberg, a qualified economist who is the CEO of the Norwegian Microfinance Initiative, and Guro Slettemark, an attorney who is Secretary General of Transparency International Norway.

“Many of the roles I have taken on have resulted from my role in the Andresen family in one way or another. This role is perhaps the first and only one which I am actually qualified for, in the sense that I am now contributing in an area in which I have much experience and have achieved something, namely taking a value-based approach to managing and thinking about ownership”, he adds.

Setting precedents
Johan H. Andresen describes his role as chair of the Council as “exciting from a management perspective” and “intellectually stimulating”.

“I started the role as something of a novice, and freely admit to not having known much about the work of the Council on Ethics, both historically and in terms of its plans for the future. I have spent a lot of time getting to grips with it all. The Council has a great atmosphere. We are really frank, not least when we are uncertain about something. I think this is important”, he comments.

Johan H. Andresen is very aware that the Council on Ethics’ decisions, which can include putting a company under review or recommending that the Oil Fund sell all its holdings, can have large repercussions.

“Our work involves applying boundaries that have not always been drawn before. Our decisions can set precedents. In such instances it is important to stop and say ‘we need to be careful about this, and to weigh it over and think it through several times’. In a way, it feels like being back at college. You have to arrive at a principled position and submit a paper. But, instead of getting a grade back, something actually happens! You set a normative ethical boundary for what is or is not acceptable. The feeling of being useful, of having an impact, is good”, comments Johan H. Andresen.

A longer version of this article is available in Norwegian in the Ferd Magazine by clicking here.


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