Norway’s wealth fund has placed an Indonesian state-controlled cement maker, in which it has a stake, under observation for three years for what it calls “risk of damage” from the firm’s activities to prehistoric cave paintings on Sulawesi island.
A Semen Indonesia subsidiary operates a mine near 18 caves in South Sulawesi which house some of the world’s oldest paintings, said Norges Bank, which manages the world’s biggest sovereign wealth fund Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM).
“The background for the decision is an unacceptable risk of damage to prehistoric and irreplaceable culture heritage,” Norges Bank said on Thursday, citing recommendations by an ethics council.
Semen Indonesia and its subsidiary that operates in the South Sulawesi region, Semen Tonasa, did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.
NBIM is Semen Indonesia’s third-largest shareholder, with 1.6% of outstanding shares as of end-2022 worth around $45 million, according to Refinitiv data.
Caves in South Sulawesi are home to paintings that are believed to be about 44,000 years old and the earliest known pictorial record of story-telling. Archaeologists have said some are rapidly decaying due to factors like salt erosion driven by climate change.
Earlier this week, UNESCO designated the area a ‘global geopark’, meaning it is a landscape with geological significance that should be developed sustainably.
Semen Tonasa “has no systematic monitoring of rock art sites”, Norges Bank said, adding that “a lack of oversight over the impact of the company’s operations constitutes a significant risk, given the outstanding cultural heritage which the rock art represents.”
Vibrations from drilling activities and dust from trucks carrying raw material pose a risk of erosion to the cave art, it said.