Norway’s wealth fund ditches 33 palm oil firms over deforestation

A truck carrying oil palm fruits passes through Felda Sahabat plantation in Malaysia. (Reuters)
Updated 28 February 2019
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Norway’s wealth fund ditches 33 palm oil firms over deforestation

  • Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG) sold stakes in more than 60 companies due to deforestation — including 33 firms involved in palm oil
  • As the world’s most widely used edible oil, palm oil is found in everything from margarine to biscuits and soap to soups, as well as in biofuel

KUALA LUMPUR: Norway’s $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund, the world’s largest, has pulled out of more than 33 palm oil companies over deforestation risks during the last seven years, a green group said on Thursday.
Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG), which released its annual report on Wednesday, sold stakes in more than 60 companies due to deforestation — including 33 firms involved in palm oil — Rainforest Foundation Norway said.
“It’s great to see that the GPFG is taking action against deforestation,” Vemund Olsen, a senior policy adviser at the Oslo-based group said on Thursday.
“The divestments should be seen as a warning shot to those investors and companies still involved in deforestation,” Olsen, whose group has monitored the GPFG’s investments since 2010, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
As the world’s most widely used edible oil, palm oil is found in everything from margarine to biscuits and soap to soups, as well as in biofuel.
But in recent years, the industry has come under close scrutiny from green activists and consumers, who have blamed it for clearing forests for plantations and causing fires, along with the exploitation of workers.
Green groups have often accused Norway of double standards by investing billions of dollars in palm oil or soya farmers while also giving cash to nations from Brazil to Indonesia to slow deforestation.
Norway signed a $1-billion deal with Indonesia to help protect its tropical forests in 2010, and the first payment for reduced emissions was agreed last week.
Since 2012, the GPFG has become a more active shareholder and now pushes sustainability and ethics among its investments and drops firms that fail to meet its standards.
Marthe Skaar, spokeswoman at Norges Bank Investment Management, which manages the fund, confirmed that more than 60 divestments had been made due to deforestation risks, including 33 palm oil firms, since 2012.
Divestments in two palm oil companies happened as recently as last year, said Skaar, adding that the fund does not disclose the names of such companies. Most palm oil is grown in Indonesia and Malaysia.
In a report released earlier this month, GPFG said that it engages with companies it owns stakes in to push them to cut their ties to deforestation.
It is currently asking banks in Indonesia, Malaysia and Brazil to adopt no deforestation criteria for their loans to the agricultural sector, the report said.
“The GPFG has realized that deforestation reduces its long term returns on investments,” says Olsen.
“It’s increasingly clear that companies involved in deforestation, directly or through their supply chains, are a major liability to investors.”


Amazon strengthens ties with French food retailer Casino

Updated 23 April 2019
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Amazon strengthens ties with French food retailer Casino

  • The move could re-ignite speculation of a bigger deal later on
  • The extended partnership comes as Casino is selling assets and cutting debt to try to allay investor concerns

PARIS: E-commerce giant Amazon and French retailer Casino are expanding their partnership, with Amazon installing pick-up lockers in Casino stores and more of the French company’s products to be available on Amazon.
The move, which follows an initial co-operation between Casino’s upmarket Monoprix supermarket chain and Amazon in Paris, could re-ignite speculation of a bigger deal later on.
An Amazon spokeswoman said it had a policy of not commenting on market speculation. Amazon’s purchase of bricks-and-mortar US food retailer Whole Foods Market last year has raised speculation it could seek to buy a European food retailer.
The extended partnership comes as Casino is selling assets and cutting debt to try to allay investor concerns over its finances and those of parent company Rallye.
The deal, unveiled on Tuesday, will see Amazon lockers installed in 1,000 locations across France in nine of Casino’s brands, including Monoprix, Monop, Geant, Hyper Casino, Casino Supermarche, Leaderprice, Viva and Spar by the end of the year. The lockers store Amazon products to be picked up by customers.
More Casino-branded products will also be available on Amazon, while Amazon and Monoprix will extend their partnership on Amazon’s Prime Now grocery delivery service outside Paris and into new cities in the next twelve months.
“This announcement represents a new step in strengthening Casino’s omnichannel strategy to always be a little more in the heart of consumers’ lives,” said Casino’s chief executive Jean-Charles Naouri in a statement.
Monoprix, seen by analysts as similar to Whole Foods, started filling orders for subscribers to Amazon’s Prime loyalty program in parts of Paris last September.
This partnership has been closely watched as Monoprix was the first French retailer to agree in March 2018 to sell products via Amazon, causing a stir in the fiercely competitive domestic market.
France is Amazon’s third largest market in Europe, after Britain and Germany. Amazon is the e-commerce leader in France with a market share of 17.3 percent, but its grocery market share stands at just 2 percent, according to Kantar data.
The US group, which has run its Amazon Prime express delivery service in Paris since 2016, has made no secret of its desire to launch a grocery delivery service in France as part of its ambitions to expand in food retail.
But the French supermarket sector has powerful incumbents such as Carrefour and Leclerc, operating at low margins and with a dense network of stores.
Earlier this week, Casino said it would sell 12 Casino hypermarkets and 20 supermarkets to Apollo Global Management in a deal worth up to €470 million ($529 million).