Controversial Oil Company Recruited Trondheim University Students

The company Total is carrying out oil exploration in the Sahara and was this year present on “Career Day” at Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim. Changemaker, SAIH and The Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara are now criticizing NTNU for lack of ethical guidelines.

Published 01 October 2013

From newspaper Under Dusken, 30 Sep 2013.

Translated from English by the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara. 

Western Sahara is an area that is often referred to as Africa’s last colony. Andreas Aksnes Karmhus, leader of Norwegian Students' and Academics' Assistance Fund (SAIH), feels that it is problematic that NTNU lets the company sell itself to the students.

“Total is decisive in the extraction of oil resources in the area. This is in conflict with international law and undermines the UN's peace process,” Karmhus stated.

In June this year the company was excluded from the investments of KLP's pension fund because of its activity in Western Sahara. According to Erik Hagen, leader of the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara, Total is standing in the way of a peaceful solution of the conflict.

"Why should Morocco solve the conflict so long as the partnership with Total results in oil extraction in Western Sahara?", he asks.

Excluded Previously
A similar case occurred at the University of Oslo in 2010 when President Ole Petter Ottersen refused to let the oil company Fugro appear at Career Day in Oslo. The reason was that Fugro violated the ethical guidelines precisely because of its activity in Western Sahara.

“We have just made a new, more rigorous set of ethical guidelines, which should make it easier for us to take a stand on such matters,” Ottersen says.

Lars Oscar Brokstad, leader of Career Day, was not aware of this situation until the organization Changemaker got in touch with them.

“We are a student-run activity with limited resources, and it is therefore difficult to check the background of all participants, especially of international companies. Total is not on the blacklist of the Norwegian Government Pension Fund – Global, and the same is true of Total Norge, which has its operations here in Norway,” he says.

He nevertheless wants an evaluation of this year's Career Day.

"We want to adopt an ethical practice for Career Day. It is both interesting and important that Changemaker has pointed out this situation, and we are happy about that," he says.

“Not Breaking International Law”
Communications Officer in Total E&P Norge, Leif Harald Halvorsen, claims that the company's activities are not in conflict with international law.

“It is correct that Total has the rights to carry out exploration and surveying in the ocean offshore Western Sahara. We believe these activities are not in conflict with international law,” Halvorsen says.

Halvorsen believes that Total's activity in Western Sahara is not controversial. “Total realizes that some organizations do not share its point of view, but we believe that our activity is in line with international laws and regulations,” he says.

Halvorsen does not wish to comment on the relationship between the University of Oslo and Fugro and states that Total has received no feedback from NTNU that there were any problems connected to their presence.

“NTNU Does Not Have Its Own Foreign Policy”
Vice-President of Innovation at NTNU, Johan Hustad, informs us that the university does not have its own ethical guidelines. 

"NTNU is a government organization and complies with the government's ethical guidelines. If someone violates these, we would naturally react. That is not the case here," Hustad says.

The University of Oslo chose to exclude the company Fugro because of the same type of activity as Total's.

“Do NTNU's ethical guidelines differ from those of the University of Oslo?” 

“That you would have to ask the University of Oslo. It is in any case very positive that various organizations draw attention to human rights. We shall keep the suggestions in mind in our further collaboration with the business community,” Hustad says. 

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