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Norway’s $915bn oil fund will push the companies it invests in to be more transparent about tax through disclosure on a country-by-country basis as it responds to a growing outcry around tax havens.
Yngve Slyngstad, chief executive of the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, said the oil fund expected boards, not finance directors, to take responsibility for tax policy.
The new tougher stance from the oil fund came as it also presented plans to radically change how chief executives are paid. First revealed by the Financial Times, the plans call for companies to scrap long-term incentive plans that have become an increasing part of executive salaries and instead make CEOs receive a significant chunk of their pay in shares that they have to hold for 5-10 years.
The twin moves on tax and pay reflect the increasing pressure the fund is under to abandon its traditional reserve and speak out louder on ethical investing.
Norwegian Church Aid, a pressure group that has stepped up calls for the fund to do more since the Panama Papers’ revelations on the use of offshore firms, welcomed the initiatives. “This is a big first step towards the oil fund taking tax and ethics seriously,” it said.
Mr Slyngstad said the fund was particularly concerned with two developments on tax. “One is closer jurisdictions’ taxation [such as Panama]. The second thing is how you move profit around through internal pricing, which may or may not reflect the economic reality of activity,” he told the Financial Times.
The oil fund will press big companies to publish country-by-country breakdowns of where they generate value, where that value is taxed, and the amount of tax paid. Businesses should also be prepared to justify publicly why they locate subsidiaries in so-called closed jurisdictions or lower-tax countries.
Mr Slyngstad insisted that boards needed to take responsibility for tax, not rely purely on management. Asked what sanctions companies could expect for not following the oil fund’s new guidelines, he added: “We have not considered filing shareholder motions on this. But we will of course consider this when we are voting for the boards.”
The two new moves came as the fund reported results for the first quarter in which it recorded its third best ever return in krone terms. The fund returned 3.8 per cent, or NKr298bn. In its 20-year history the fund has now returned NKr3.42tn, slightly higher than the NKr3.38tn it had received from Norway’s petroleum revenues.