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Norwegian Wouldn't

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


By Michael Busch. Originally published by our partner site, World Policy Blog.

Most variations of international-relations realism include some notion of states sacrificing ethical considerations at the altar of national interest. It's never been completely clear, of course, whether this is a descriptive claim, or a prescriptive one—whether, in other words, the idea is that states should behave this way, or that they in fact do.   

Those pondering this question ought to consider the case of Norway. In a brief but revealing cable included in the vast WikiLeaks "CableGate" trove and published last week by the Norwegian paper Aftenposten, US embassy officials report that the Nordic nation opted to divest its sovereign wealth holdings from companies violating "humanitarian principles" and "fundamental ethical norms." 

In case you are thinking that major global corporations aren't exactly quaking in their boots at the prospect of divestiture by Norway, think again. Built on the healthy revenues of Norway's thriving oil sector, the country's sovereign fund invests its considerable wealth in over 7,000 corporations worldwide. In fact, the fund is the largest single investor in Europe

To judge from the WikiLeaked cable, the combination of Norway's financial heft with its righteous ethical stance concerned American diplomats because, well, it disproportionately affects US corporations—specifically, America's highly-profitable and politically-influential arms manufacturers.

The cable notes that according to the ethical guidelines governing Norway's sovereign wealth fund, the country is not to invest in "companies who handle 'weapons that through their normal use may violate fundamental humanitarian principles'" which Norway's minister of finance "identified as weapons such a [sic] cluster munitions or nuclear weapons." According to the cable, "it is as a result of this screening that Norway divested from several American arms manufacturing companies."

American companies are hardly alone in courting the disapproval of Norway's ethical watchdogs. According to the embassy dispatch, the Norwegian Ethics Council, the agency tasked with reviewing the behavior of companies, "has determined that if companies build large gas pipelines in Burma they will likely be involved with the Burmese Armed Forces and thus probably undermine human rights. Thus, if a company builds a pipeline in Burma, the stage is set for possible divestiture from that company. The companies at risk include Total, Daewoo and PetroChina."

And it's not just the American military-industrial complex or authoritarian regimes that Norway wants nothing to do with. The country also severed ties with a global behemoth of a different kind: Walmart. Norway washed its hands of Sam Walton and friends after determining that the company "is considered to have 'serious violations of fundamental ethical norms.'" The minister of finance made clear to the Americans and others that "exclusions only happen after the Ethical Council tries and fails to get the company to change its practices." In the case of Walmart, the cable admits that it was not clear if Walmart ever tried to address Norway's concerns, but posits that the Norwegians simply might have thought any effort at doing so "would be fruitless."

In point of fact, Norway did reach out to Walmart, asking for the company's response to allegations that the world's largest company "consistently and systematically employs minors in contravention of international rules, that working conditions at many of its suppliers are dangerous or health-hazardous, that workers are pressured into working overtime without compensations, [and] that the company systematically discriminates against women in pay."

The country's central bank reported that Walmart never responded.


Michael Busch teaches international relations at the City College of New York and is Research Associate at the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies.

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When I was younger and able, I worked in a Walmart Distribution Center briefly loading trucks. Let me tell you the craziness - we had to do it "by hand" with no pallet jacks! Entertainment centers fell off the rolling ramp thing and squashed all my toenails - then a red light started flashing because I backed up the line. Insanity.
i think they are talking about the manufacturing aspect of walmart products (e.g. chinese children)
No, they're not.
Every day I hear more good things about Norway, and the climate is not bad compared to what I'm used to; maybe time i seriously consider emigrating, from Canada, LOL. If Harper wins a majority would the Norwegians be as kind as to take me in as a refugee :D
You might stop hearing good things about Norway pretty soon, I'm afraid. This country's core values are being hijacked by a political party of dishonest anti-intellectuals taking raw advantage of the general public's lack of interest in important (and unCOOL/boring!) stuff, collecting votes from zombies that want cheaper gas, lower taxes, cheaper alcohol and less brown people. Of course the party has more on it's agenda, and it's officials generally aren't that transparent, because of the standards of political correctness they have to adhere to, but once in a while you'll get a clear picture, by some slip-up. And it's -always- clear when you actually go out and talk to voters. Sure, there are some bright people that knows what's going on amongst them, but this party generally collects its votes from people that don't even know the party's ideology, except from the cheap and superficial selling points they present (knowing that they'll get a lot of votes from idiots) that's often based on racism and bigotry. Not in the sense that they'll actually say something explicitly racist (although it happens), but they know what to say to spread an idea, without directly stating that idea. And it works, those ideas are what we actually end up debating with it's brainwashed voters. And they'll probably be in government pretty soon - any election now! (although it will be in coalition with less crazy people).. In short, these people are much like the mainstream right wing in the US (which by international standards are the radical right wing) - The officials are irresponsible, corrupt and cynical liars that rely on the voters being stupid.. the voters are brainwashed, uneducated and unable to debate any issue intelligently. It's all about oversimplified rhetorical BS, Fox News style. No facts please. They also support pretty much anything the US regime does, no matter how unethical. They were the only major party supporting the absolutely disgusting crime of invading Iraq on a pack of blatant lies, and at one point even demanded an apology from the peace movement for opposing this war. Of course the US regime sees this party as its best Norwegian friend (pretty obvious, but confirmed by WikiLeaks) - as other parties (like the one the financial minister represents) are much more critical of the US. Lately I've been noticing some international (hello reddit!) focus on responsible Norwegian politics that seem distant under some regimes out there, like the issue in this article. Let me tell you that even though there are some officials with real integrity and the balls to say no to shallow corporate interests, first of all, these articles tend to be exaggerated and extremely one-sided.. second, this might soon be a thing of the past. If this crazy party gets enough power, Norway will be just another bunch of irresponsible wackos internationally. We'll join the axis of BS, and we'll stop making decisions that are unpopular with the US, forget our position on the middle east crisis, forget a humane immigration policy, and forget "opting to divest our sovereign wealth holdings from companies violating "humanitarian principles" and "fundamental ethical norms."" Forget it all, we are infected.
I didn't know it had gotten that bad. I thought all the Scandinavian countries were still doing well with their sanity. It never even occurred to me that you might be going off the rails. I always had high hopes that Scandinavia might pull the rest of Europe towards sanity again. We all seem to be drifting towards liars and idiots. In the UK, over the decades, our education system has become worse and worse whilst the average exam marks have gone up giving the illusion of superior education. Most annoyingly the ability to reason has left the mainstream UK populace, if it ever had it, and we will continue to make ill informed and stupid decisions. I fear that we are headed in the direction of US and their stupidity. Just today I heard a wonderful quote by Obama (The supposedly reasonable candidate). I forget the exact wording during his state of the union address but basically America should aim to remain competitive with the world. America should out innovate and out educate. Hmm most innovations seem to have come from Europe, including most of those that made America the powerhouse it is today. Their education system and laws are a product of European ideals and systems. The main point where they differ is their right wing stupidity and desire to see the poor remain poor (Sorry make it for themselves). I worry that rather than us teach the US how they should be that we will drift into being more like them.
Very little would change with new government party, but running out of oil might change the political correct stance.
Well, in one way, it hasn't gotten bad yet. :) This party has never formed a government, but they've been too close. And concerning the "very little would change"-comment, that's just too damn naive. Of course it won't happen over night, or without a fight, but it will happen if they are given enough power over a long enough period of time. And it will be even easier for them if people are going around thinking we're immune, and not bother to fight them. Politics is slow-moving, not non-moving.
Didn't Norway somehow steal all the oil from Sweden? No wonder they are now compensating by being ethical
What are you talking about?

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