Sovereign Wealth Funds as Regulatory Chameleons: The Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Funds and Public Global Governance Through Private Global Investment

92 Pages Posted: 10 May 2009 Last revised: 19 Nov 2009

See all articles by Larry Catá Backer

Larry Catá Backer

Pennsylvania State University, Penn State Law

Date Written: May 4, 2009


The character of global regulation has changed dramatically over the last decade. Today, multinational corporations sometimes assert substantial regulatory power across borders, and states sometimes enter markets as participants rather than as regulators - especially when they engage in economic activity outside their borders through sovereign wealth funds (SWFs). In both cases the current transnational ordering has settled on voluntary principles based approaches to regulation. SWFs are controlled by states but seek to participate in private markets in the same way as private investment vehicles. But the difficulty has been the need to overcome the inherent sovereign character of state investment, central to the definition of SWFs. SWFs thus proceed from definition to conundrum. If SWFs are grounded in the reality of their formal connection to states, and if states are deemed sovereign in their actions, then it might be reasonable to assume that such funds could not be treated like private investment funds. To bridge that gap, it was necessary to find a way to disconnect SWFs from the state and sovereign activity, and to model private activity in a way that made it possible to construct a set of behavior principles that might produce an equivalence between SWFs and private investment vehicles. The first was accomplished by creating a functional distinction between state and SWF, a distinction unnecessary for traditional sovereign investment. The second was grounded in the presumption that there is a way of distilling the essence of private investment behaviors sufficiently precisely to distinguish those behaviors from sovereign conduct. Both are nicely captured in the Santiago Principles. Both are problematic either as concept or in application. This paper looks closely at one example of this rising phenomenon - the socially responsible sovereign wealth fund. It focuses on a close review of one of the most influential funds, the Norwegian Government Pension Fund - Global (Statens pensjonsfond - Utland). It is among the largest and most influential SWF in the world, and the largest in Europe. The Norwegian SWF provides a particularly useful case study of the issues that are now at the center of reconceptualizations of the relationships between state and corporation, between economic and political regulation, between national and transnational legal frameworks, and between public and private legal regimes. The paper first describes conceptual and regulatory frameworks on which current policy discussions of sovereign wealth funds are undertaken. It then turns to the Norwegian funds, focusing on the history of the Norwegian fund, its legal structure and the development of its investment principles. It then looks to the way those principles were used in two distinct areas - the creation of incentives to produce changes in the behavior and culture of corporations and the response to the global financial crisis of 2008. The paper suggests the political character of these activities. It then examines these actions in light of investment behaviors of socially responsible private funds, on which the Santiago Principles framework are grounded. These entities operate in ways that would be considered political, and suspect under the Santiago Principles, were they sovereign rather than private investment vehicles. Thus, problem is not that the Norwegian SWF advances political agendas through interventions in private markets, but rather that private investors engage in substantially similar conduct. The Norwegian SWF suggests that the emerging framework of SWF governance, grounded on an assumption that a state organization formally public but functionally private, acting like an idealized private investor does not work either for private investors who seek to use investment for political ends or state investment entities that purport to refrain from that sort of activity.

Keywords: sovereign wealth funds, Santiago Principles, Norway

Suggested Citation

Backer, Larry Catá, Sovereign Wealth Funds as Regulatory Chameleons: The Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Funds and Public Global Governance Through Private Global Investment (May 4, 2009). Georgetown Journal of International Law, Vol. 41, No. 2, 2009. Available at SSRN:

Larry Catá Backer (Contact Author)

Pennsylvania State University, Penn State Law ( email )

Lewis Katz Building
University Park, PA 16802
United States

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