The Man from FCPA often says that there are business solutions to legal issues such as compliance with anti-corruption laws like the Foregin Corrupt Practices Act or U.K. Bribery Act. This means that in many ways, businesses, as much as the regulators, are driving compliance. There is another group in the business matrix that can also work toward compliance with applicable laws and regulations and better corporate governance. That group is corporate investors or shareholders.
Case in point: the Norwegian oil fund, a sleeping giant of an investor, has recently shown an interest in the corporate governance of those firms in which it invests. Given the amount of clout the fund has, this could be a game-changer, going forward.
As the Financial Times recently opined, “When the quiet one in the room suddenly shouts, people tend to listen.” I would add when the quiet one has $850 billion in assets under management, that voice can really carry. Earlier, the Norwegian fund announced it would fight excessive and unseemly corporate compensation. These actions by the Norwegian oil fund did not fall out of the sky. The fund had begun to take more affirmative actions toward more robust corporate governance by issuing position papers on its voting intentions.
The Norwegian oil fund announced this week that it would be joining shareholder lawsuits, filed in Germany against Volkswagen over the emissions testing scandal. More specifically, the fund is most concerned by VW’s response to the scandal in its claim that defeat devices installed by the company to defraud regulators and customers were designed, created, installed, updated, and all hidden by a group of rogue employees. Petter Johnsen, a representative for the fund was quoted as saying, “Volkswagen management should have known about the manipulative engine devices.”
Near the end of its op-ed piece, the FT stated that “sometimes “softly, softly” is still the best approach.” Yet the same piece ends with the Voltaire’s admonition that “With great power comes great responsibility.” We should applaud the Norwegian oil fund’s use of that power in this case.