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Wednesday August 25, 2010

Samling refutes Norway’s state pension fund claims

PETALING JAYA: Sarawak-based Samling Global Ltd has refuted its former investor Norwegian Pension Fund’s (NPF) claims that the group had repeatedly breached regulations of its timber activities in Sarawak and Guyana, contributing to illegal logging and severe environmental damage.

A company spokesperson said that Samling Global was dissappointed with NPF’s public characterisation of the group, which was inaccurate and not based on complete information.

“Samling Global has invited NPF to visit our operations to gain first-hand knowledge of our business and to clarify issues, but to no response. However, we respect NPF’s decision and we do not wish to comment on the decision of investors,” the spokesperson told StarBiz.

Samling Global however would remain committed to continual improvement in its sustainable forest management efforts.

Linked to Sarawak timber tycoon Yaw Teck Seng, Samling Global is listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. It is an integrated forest resource and wood products group with international operations in Malaysia, China, New Zealand, Australia and Guyana.

Its timber concession in Guyana is about 1.6 million ha and the concession in Malaysia is estimated at 1.3 million ha.

On Monday, NPF, which is Norway’s state pension fund and also one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds, announced that it had excluded two Israeli companies on unethical activities and Samling Global on ethical grounds.

The assessment by Norway’s Council on Ethics on Samling Global concluded that the group’s forest operations in Sarawak and Guyana had contributed to illegal logging and severe environmental damage. As at end of 2009, Norway’s state pension fund held 8.1 million kroner in stocks in Samling Global, which have now been sold.

According to a source, NPF’s stake in Samling Global was only 0.37% . Its total investment in Samling Global as at Dec 31, 2009 was estimated to be worth about US$1.3mil prior to the divestment.

“While the investment fraternity may consider the exit of NPF from Samling as no big deal given its insignificant stake, however, NPF accusations on Samling Global can to a certain extent affect the stock in the long term,” said the source.

“It is unfair for NPF to label Samling Global as unethical given that the group has been involved in the timber business for the past 40 years and is also a strong advocate of sustainable forest development and management.”

An analyst with a local bank-backed brokerage said he was not surprised by NPF’s decision to exit from investing in “controversial” companies related to large-scale human rights violations, corruption, the tobacco industry or environmental pollution.

NPF is a shareholder in almost 7,900 companies worldwide. The pension fund frequently excludes companies from its investment portfolio according to the criteria laid out in its ethical guidelines.

Some of the companies that have been excluded include Walmart, Singapore Technologies Engineering, Boeing, Britain’s BAE Systems, Rio Tinto, tobacco, weapon manufacturing, nuclear weapons manufacturing and mining companies.

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