Along with affiliates HK Norway and FSU Norway, UNI Global Union met recently with Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM), which manages the investments of the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund – the world’s second largest – to discuss implementation of its recently issued expectations on human capital management, including workers’ rights.
The meeting was a milestone in UNI’s years-long push to move NBIM to elevate worker issues in its discussions with the more than 9,000 companies in the Fund’s portfolio. NBIM has a stake of more than 1.5 per cent of all listed companies in the world and more than 2.7 per cent of those in Europe, making it the typically the second or third largest shareholder in publicly traded European companies. The size of its holdings, together with its global standing, make the bank a standard-setter in responsible investment spheres around the world.
While NBIM’s expectations document was not perfect, its release last year marked significant progress in the bank’s willingness to focus on workers’ rights. NBIM set out that: “Good labour relations, including freedom of association and collective bargaining, provide a foundation for companies to adopt and implement human capital management strategies effectively.”
Soon after the expectations’ release, UNI and its affiliates called for strong action behind these words. Last week’s meeting stressed why implementation is so important by highlighting cases like Amazon, which has a long record of rights abuses and worker mistreatment.
The bank’s response to these concerns will be closely watched by UNI and its affiliates. It will also be monitored by members of Norway’s Parliament, who oversee the bank and also met with UNI and HK Norway.
“This could be a turning point for how the bank uses its outsized influence to ensure respect for workers’ rights at companies around the globe, and it would have a ripple effect across other investors,” said Christy Hoffman, General Secretary of UNI. “It is a big change, and it is a big deal. Now, we have to see how this explicit recognition of fundamental rights is put into practice. At the end of the day, that’s what matters.”
UNI has been engaging with the bank to promote workers’ rights for more than a decade, raising specific companies with labour issues and calling for a focus on fundamental labour rights, as well strengthening how the fund exercises its influence.
The meeting with NBIM is part of a larger effort to move investors to act on freedom of association and collective bargaining, following the release of the “Shared Prosperity” report that UNI co-authored with Global Unions’ Committee on Workers’ Capital. The report outlines why and how investors should react in cases where companies infringe on workers’ rights to join a union and bargain collectively.