Thursday April 27th, Business for Peace Foundation hosted a panel debate together with the Nobel Peace Center as a run-up to the 2017 Business for Peace Summit.
–An increasing number of Norwegian business leaders are, together with the Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global, emphasising the importance of setting requirements for companies in which they choose to deal with or invest in, said moderator Elisabeth Skarsbø Moen when introducing the topic.
The panel, consisting of Kiran Aziz, Anniken Huitfeldt, Johan H. Andresen and Matts Johansen offered interesting perspectives on the effects of setting such requirements, in a world experiencing growing unrest.
In his capacity as chairman of the Council on Ethics for the Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global, Andresen emphasised that the fund’s impact is significant and increasingly so. This process is reinforced by international companies becoming more and more interested in following the council’s ethical guidelines in order not to be excluded from the fund’s portfolio.
Huitfeldt, Chair of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence at the Norwegian Parliament, could confirm that the awareness of the ethical guidelines is increasing also among state leaders and government authorities across the globe.
When being asked whether companies can exert significant influence in an area like human rights, Kiran Aziz, Lecturer at the Norwegian Business School’s Department of Law and Governance, shared the following reflections:
– Human rights are a responsibility of the state and so other state authorities should be the ones following up. However, not all states succeed in their work on this, thus the presence, by for instance foreign companies, becomes an alternative way to exercise this influence, said Aziz.
One of the greater challenges experienced by Norwegian companies during the last years, was the stalemate in Norway’s official relations with China in 2010, a situation which ended late last year.
CEO of Aker Biomarine, Matts Johansen, confirmed that the situation challenged the trade relations and also the ability for Norwegian companies to exercise influence.
– One of the most important contributions we can do is to be present, with our values and culture, said Johansen. During this period, there has been a full stop to these processes.
Moving back to the topic of governmental involvement, the panel was asked whether they believe it is typically a Norwegian thing to push ethical standards when doing trade.
– This is not a ‘Norwegian thing to do’, there is a large group of Western countries pulling in the same direction, thus the pressure on those countries with poor conditions comes from multiple actors, said Andresen.
Aziz added that the OECD guidelines is an international instrument to exert such influence, signed by 34 of the OECD member countries and 12 countries outside the organisation.
In a changing geopolitical environment, additional challenges follow, such as an antiglobalisation rhetoric and antidemocratic tendencies. The panellists were also asked whether this, in any way, puts greater demands on those trying to influence for improved standards?
– In these situations, we are absolutely dependent on the political and societal sphere pulling in the same direction. As with the example of China, the business relations came to a standstill as well, and the re-ignition was always at the mercy of Chinese authorities, said Johansen.
A returning topic of the discussion was the sustainability agenda and its position and potential in Norway. All four agreed that a change in mind-set is taking place.
– There is a strong trend among new generations to look for jobs that do not only generate income, but through which they can make a difference. We receive a high number of applications from this group, creating a large advantage for the company as it provides a work force with values which match that of the company. This, in turn, adds further to the company’s value creation, said Johansen.
State leaders no longer ask for aid, they ask for partnerships and business cooperation, something which will be an important part of the Norwegian development model moving forward.
-Anniken Huitfeldt, Chair of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence