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

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.”


UAE to impose 50% tax on soft drinks in health drive

Updated 21 August 2019

UAE to impose 50% tax on soft drinks in health drive

  • The 50% tax on soft drinks and 100% on vaping products start Jan. 1, 2020
  • The government says the taxes are necessary to help persuade people to make healthier choices

DUBAI: The UAE government has announced new taxes of up to 100 percent aimed at vaping and soft drinks, in a bid to reduce the consumption of unhealthy products.

Starting Jan. 1, 2020, the new list of taxable products will include sugary and sweetened soft drinks, as well as powders that can be used to make drinks, and electronic smoking devices.

A statement on state-run news agency WAM said the step is aimed at reducing “consumption of unhealthy goods and modifying consumers’ behavior.”

The Cabinet decision, will add a 50 percent tax on soft drinks with added sugar, in form of a liquid, concentrate, powders, extracts or any product that may be converted into a drink.

Vaping devices and the associated products will be taxed at 100%. (File/Shutterstock)

“The decision also requires manufacturers to clearly identify the sugar content in order for consumers to make sensible healthy choices,” the statement read.

The cabinet also announced the introduction of a 100 percent tax on electronic smoking devices - irrespective of whether they contain nicotine or tobacco - and the liquids used in the devices.

The UAE government first introduced a tax on specific goods deemed harmful to human health in 2017.