In December of 2004, Norway’s sovereign wealth owned shares of Walmart Inc. (NYSE: WMT) valued at about $195 million and shares of Walmart de Mexico valued at about $9 million. By 2006, those investments had been sold and the country’s wealth fund has not purchased any in the following 13 years. That’s about to change.
On Tuesday, the Government Pension Fund Global, as the fund is officially called, revoked its exclusion of Walmart and four other large companies from investment by the fund. U.S. defense firm General Dynamics Corp. (NYSE: GD), Canadian fertilizer maker Nutrien Ltd. (NYSE: NTR) (Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan and Agrium before the two merged in 2017), British mining giant Rio Tinto PLC (NYSE: RIO) and Mexican conglomerate Grupo Carso SAB de C.V. have all been welcomed back into the fold.
Walmart’s exclusion was described this way in the fund’s Council on Ethics recommendation to pull the investment:
Concerning violations of working environment standards, prohibition against unionisation and gender-based discrimination, these too will probably not be sufficient in themselves to recommend exclusion, even in cases where they must be regarded as systematic. In the view of the Council, what makes this case special is the total sum of violations of standards, both in the company’s own business operations and in the supply chain.
In its revocation statement, the fund said that there were fewer complaints about poor working conditions among Walmart’s supply chain providers and the council believes the issue is no longer applicable.
While Walmart is still fighting many class action lawsuits related to employees’ working conditions, “there no longer seem to be grounds to claim that the company systematically discriminates against groups of employees, that underage people are unlawfully employed by the company or that employees are systematically forced to work without pay.”
What the council does continue to find, however, is “no trace of positive change” in Walmart’s “active opposition” to workers’ efforts to form or join trade unions. On this point, the council finds Walmart’s practices to remain “censurable.” By itself, however, “thwarting” attempts to unionize is not reason enough to continue excluding Walmart from the fund’s portfolio.
The fund’s top four equity holdings are Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet and Amazon. In March, the wealth fund announced that it was paring back its investments in oil and gas exploration and production companies. Royal Dutch Shell PLC (NYSE: RDS-A) is the only oil company among the fund’s top 10 investments.