Danish pensions giant dumps German firm over West Bank exploitation

Charlotte Silver, Electronic Intifada, 15 December 2015

The largest private pension and insurance fund in Denmark has divested from a German company because it is involved in exploiting natural resources in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

PFA Pension, which holds $50 billion in assets, announced that it is dumping the shares of HeidelbergCement because it “does not wish to contribute to any illegal activities in relation to the occupation of the West Bank.”

PFA said it had spent the year examining the issue in the context of international law and concluded it should exclude HeidelbergCement from its portfolio.

“HeidelbergCement is involved in the extraction of natural resources in a way that is incompatible with PFA’s policy for responsible investments,” the fund said.

PFA’s exclusion list defines HeidelbergCement’s activities as a “violation of basic human rights.”

HeidelbergCement, one of the largest construction materials companies in the world, owns three cement plants and one quarry in the occupied West Bank through its subsidiary Hanson Israel, which it acquired in 2007.

HeidelbergCement joins a number of other companies on PFA’s exclusion list. Most, including Israel’s Elbit Systems, are weapons manufacturers.

There are currently nine Israeli-operated quarries in the occupied West Bank, according to Who Profits.

In 2011, the occupation watchdog group found that 94 percent of the mined materials are transferred to present-day Israel, and a portion of the profits are allocated to the Civil Administration, the name Israel gives its occupation bureaucracy.

PFA Pension is the second European pension fund to divest from HeidelbergCement due to its exploitation of Palestinian resources.

In June, KLP, Norway’s largest pension fund, divested from HeidelbergCement and Cemex, a Mexican firm that owned shares in a quarry in the West Bank.

In response to mounting international pressure, Cemex sold its stake in the company in October, though it still maintains factories in Israeli settlements.

HeidelbergCement defended its subsidiary in response to KLP’s divestment.

Arguing that its Nahal Raba quarry, first opened in 1986, is on “public land,” HeidelbergCement claimed the activity was “compatible” with international law.

The Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq says that exploitation of Palestinian resources under the cover of Israeli occupation constitutes the international crime of pillage regardless of who owns the land.

In 2011, in defiance of international law, Israel’s high court ruled that the quarries were legal, arguing that they benefited the indigenious Palestinian population by providing jobs and funding the administration of the occupation.

HeidelbergCement also claimed its quarry “produces substantial advantages for the local Palestinian population.”

PFA Pension is the latest investor to reject such claims that profit-driven business can mitigate Israel’s military occupation and illegal colonization of Palestinian land.

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