14 March 2014

Morocco: Total's Operations in Western Sahara Under Ethics Probe By Norwegian Wealth Fund

Oslo — Norway's sovereign wealth fund is examining the operations of the French oil firm Total in Western Sahara to ascertain whether its activities there are unethical, reported Wednesday Reuters.

The fund, responsible to grow revenue from the exploitation of Norwegian oil and gas reserves, manages a portfolio of more than 600 billion euros, making it one of the largest investors in the world.

The fund, which invests Norway's revenues from oil and gas for future generations, invests only in firms it considers ethical, and has blacklisted 63 firms, including makers of nuclear arms, antipersonnel landmines, cluster bombs and tobacco.

It is one of the world's largest investors, with holdings in 8,200 companies, including a 2.06% Total stake worth about $3bn, which makes it the French company's fourth-biggest investor.

"We are following the work of Total in Western Sahara closely," said Ola Mestad, a law professor who has headed the Norwegian fund's ethics council since 2010.

Ole Mestad said the main issue with Western Sahara was ensuring that the interests of the local population - many of whom are either exiled or in refugee camps - are protected.

Total was awarded a licence to explore for oil and gas off Western Sahara in 2011 by Morocco, which annexed the region in 1975 after colonial power Spain withdrew.

The fund's council on ethics, which published its 2013 annual report on Wednesday, has recommended the fund drop its investments in companies in the past because of their involvement in Western Sahara.

In 2005, the fund sold its stake in oil company Kerr McGee, since the council considered its offshore exploration work there strengthened the claims of Morocco to sovereignty over the territory, a claim not recognised by the UN. Kerr McGee did not renew its contract the following year.

In 2011, the fund sold its shares in Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan and FMC Corporation for buying phosphate from Western Sahara.

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