World's biggest wealth fund puts Japan's Kirin Holdings on watch list over Myanmar link

Terje Solsvik, Reuters

Posted at Mar 04 2021 12:17 PM

Army officers intervene during a protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, March 2, 2021. Picture taken from behind a window. Reuters/Stringer

OSLO - The Norwegian central bank said on Wednesday it had put Japan's Kirin Holdings Ltd Co on a watch list for possible exclusion from its $1.3 trillion sovereign wealth fund over the beverage giant's ties to a business owned by Myanmar's military.

"Kirin has recently announced an intention to end this business cooperation, and the implementation of this will be followed up as a part of the observation," the central bank said in a statement.

Kirin Holdings was not immediately available for comment when contacted by Reuters.

The drinks giant said on Feb. 5 it would scrap a joint venture called Myanmar Brewery, in which Kirin's controlling stake was valued at up to $1.7 billion, after the army staged a coup deposing the democratically elected government.

Later in the month, however, Kirin said it still wanted to keep selling beer in Myanmar.

Norges Bank Investment Management, which manages the world's largest sovereign wealth fund, held a 1.29% stake in Kirin Holdings at the end of 2020 with a value of $277.1 million.

The Norwegian sovereign fund, formally called the Government Pension Fund Global and set up in 1996 to save petroleum revenues for future generations, owns about 1.5% of all globally listed shares.

Holding stakes in around 9,100 companies worldwide, it has set the pace on a host of issues in the environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) field, and its decisions are often followed by other investors.

The bank separately said it would allow the wealth fund to invest again in Poland's Atal SA, which had been excluded since 2017 for risk of human rights violations through its use of North Korean workers at Polish construction sites.

"As a result of a resolution in the United Nations Security Council, all North Korean workers have now been sent out of Poland. Therefore, there are no longer grounds for excluding the company," Norges Bank said.

Atal did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

A third firm, Germany's Thyssenkrupp AG, will be the subject of an "active ownership" process as the fund's management seeks to probe the company's anti-corruption work, Norges bank said.

"Norges Bank has been in dialogue with the company over a long period of time. We therefore have a good foundation for active ownership on the issues to which this matter relates," the central bank said.

The fund held a 1.3% stake in the German firm at the end of 2020 valued at $147.1 million.

Thyssenkrupp did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. 

Watch more in iWantTFC