Following a report released by Danwatch in January, Denmark’s third largest pension fund, Sampension, moved to exclude four publicly traded companies from their portfolio due to their investments in illegal Israeli settlement activities. The move is a major win for the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which has increasingly come under fire in recent years as Israel and its allies have pushed to squash growing popularity with new legislation and political pressure on both public and private institutions.
Danwatch’s report, Business on Occupied Territory, found that Sampension with $46.1 billion under its management, was the Danish pension fund that had been investing the largest sums of money in companies that do business in or around illegal Israeli settlements.
Ana Sanchez, speaking on behalf of the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), the largest Palestinian coalition that leads the global BDS movement for Palestinian rights, welcomed the move, telling Mondoweiss it represents “the latest indicator of the mounting pressure on businesses that are deeply complicit in Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights to stop profiting from Israel’s military occupation and apartheid.”
“All pension and investments funds must divest from Israeli and international companies that are involved in Israel’s human rights violations not just in response to the BDS call issued by Palestinian civil society but also in compliance with UN principles and guidelines on business and human rights,” Sanchez said.
According to Danwatch, Sampension chose to revise its investment guidelines following the report. In accordance to its new guidelines, Sampension excluded four Israeli companies from its portfolio.
The four companies excluded due to their involvement in settlement activity are all listed as companies targeted by the BDS movement. They were identified as two Israeli banks, Hapoalim and Leumi, the German construction company, HeidelbergCement and Bezeq, Israel’s largest telecommunications company, which owns telecommunications equipment installed within settlements, providing the illegal communities with telephone and data signals.
Sampension shared a press release after the move, explaining the shift.
“During 2017, Sampension has expanded its policy and practice for responsible investments in several areas,” the report read. “The focus areas are climate change, human rights and the pursuit of active ownership.”
Director of Investments in Sampension, Henrik Olejasz Larsen, said the four companies were excluded from their investment portfolios due to “the financing of settlements and for the extraction of natural resources and the establishment of infrastructure for telecommunications in the occupied area.”
In addition to the four Israeli companies already blacklisted on Sampension’s portfolio, the company has stated it is now “initiating a dialogue” with another six companies about possible business activities in Israel’s settlements, according to the most recent Danwatch report.
Denmark’s largest bank, Danske Bank, also a BDS target, confirmed to Danwatch that it still holds investments in Hapoalim and Leumi, despite reports of the bank’s blacklisting of Hapoalim in 2014.
Last month Israel’s banks came under fire, as Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report criticizing Israeli banks for continuing to allow investments and business exchanges with industries that support illegal Israeli settlements, in contravention of international law.
Israeli banks, such as Leumi, one of the banks that Sampension blacklisted, told HRW they are required by Israeli law to provide services to settlements, since Israeli banking, consumer, and anti-discrimination law, dictates that banks cannot reject customers based on their place of residence.
However HRW found that Israeli banks “do not have to provide financial services that involve settlements, such as financing construction projects or mortgages for settlement properties, when the grounds for refusal are not the place of residence of the customer but rather the business and human rights considerations stemming from the location of the activities.”
HRW called on banks to use the legal loophole to divest from any investments involved in settlement activities.
HeidelbergCement, one of the four companies moved to Sampension’s blacklist, is the world’s largest cement producer and a major manufacturer of aggregates and ready-mix concrete, with around $1 billion in revenue, according to Who Profits, a research center dedicated to exposing companies involved in Israeli settlement activity.
The German cement company owns three plants and one aggregates quarry in the occupied West Bank through Hanson Israel, Heidelberg’s local branch.
One of the quarries operates on Palestinian land from the village of al-Zawiya.
“The quarry exploits occupied Palestinian natural resources for the needs of the Israeli construction industry,” Who Profit documented. In addition, once the natural resources, dug up from West Bank land, are turned into building material, they are directly supplied to settlements for building and expanding illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.
“Materials of stone and gravel extracted from Palestinian land have been providing the raw material needed for the Israeli expansionist construction industry,” Who Profits documented. “Without which the construction sector could not have thrived economically, generating profit for many Israeli companies.”
Last month, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) released a report revealing that the Palestinian economy was performing “far below potential.”
The report documented that the primary cause of the problem was the “continuing loss of land and natural resources to settlements and the annexation of land in the West Bank.”
According a report released by The Rights Forum, a research center focused on Israel and Palestine, natural stone, or “white oil” is one of Palestine’s most important resources, with the industry providing at least 15 to 20 thousand Palestinian jobs, with an annual contribution of $250 million to the Palestinian economy — however the report found that the stone’s potential value was up to $30 billion.
HRW found that companies such as HeidelbergCement are in direct violation of international humanitarian law “which requires that such natural resources should only be used for the benefit of the (Palestinian) population of the occupied territory.”