Just hours before the Nobel Peace Prize for 2017 was to be announced in Oslo on Friday came reports of a major “paradox” regarding the funding for all the Nobel prizes. A leading Norwegian environmental and humanitarian organization claims that the Stockholm-based Nobel Foundation invests its funds in companies producing everything from weapons to coal and fossil fuels.
“It’s a paradox that they (Nobel officials in both Stockholm and Oslo) hand out Peace Prizes to those fighting climate change and to human rights activists, but on the other hand go along with financing what the prize winners are fighting against,” Anja Bakken Riise, leader of the organization Fremtiden i våre hender (The Future in Our Hands), told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Friday morning.
The organization, which has long been at the forefront of major environmental and social issues in Norway, received little if any help from the Nobel Institutes in Sweden and Norway regarding how they invest the money that funds the prizes set up through the will of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel. The Nobelstiftelsen (Nobel Foundation) was established in Stockholm in 1900 in accordance with Nobel’s instructions, to manage the fortune Nobel willed to set up the prizes for those making the most advances within physics, chemistry, medicine or physiology, literature and peace. The first prizes were handed out in 1901, and a Nobel-inspired prize in economics was set up later.
Now the institutes and the foundation managing their money are under harsh criticism, both over their lack of openness regarding their funding and the foundation’s investments. The organization, through its own research, has discovered that the Nobel Foundation has invested in companies that seem to defy Alfred Nobel’s intentions and the noble deeds carried out by prize winners.
“We have found a string of problematic investments, among others in SAAB AB (which produces weapons), the British American Tobacco (BAT) company and the strongly polluting coal company RWE,” Riise said on NRK’s national radio news in Norway on Friday. She claimed that the Nobel Foundation has stakes in several of the companies that Norway’s Oil Fund has blacklisted, including BAT and Swedish Match, because they violate the Oil Fund’s own ethics guidelines.
Riise said the major problem is that the Nobel Foundation lacks its own set of ethical guidelines for its investments. “It’s hair-raising that a respectable, highly regarded institution that manages such a proud heritage doesn’t have clear ethical guidelines for its own investments,” Riise said.
Her organization has compiled its own list of Nobel Foundation investments based on its own reports and efforts to dig deeper into its holdings. Riise described their list as “just the tip of the iceberg” because many other controversial companies weren’t included on it because of lack of firm evidence. “It hasn’t been easy to verify all our findings, and that’s a problem in itself,” she said, criticizing the Nobel Foundation’s lack of cooperation and openness.
‘We’re a small player’
Lars Heikensten, director of the Nobel Foundation in Sweden, told NRK that “ethical investments are important for us” but he claimed he couldn’t answer whether Nobel’s money is invested in weapons, coal or tobacco. The organization’s list was sent to the foundation but he couldn’t comment on it.
“We set high standards in ethical conflicts but are, in contrast to the Norwegian Oil Fund, a small player,” Heikensten said. “We therefore don’t actively work with each individual company, but invest our money through funds.” He claimed the foundation has developed new ethical guidelines to guarantee that no new investments will be made by fund managers in companies that violate international conventions, for example those producing land mines or cluster bombs.
“We have an ambition to be at the forefront of sustainable investments,” he claimed. “Therefore we are evaluating whether to use our position to make more active investments in projects that contribute towards positive developments.” The Norwegian Nobel Committee, which is responsible for awarding the Nobel Peace Prize, had no immediate comment.
The Nobel Prizes currently carry cash awards of SEK 9 million (around USD 1 million), with the money generated by the returns on the investment of Alfred Nobel’s estate.