South Yorkshire Pensions Authority
Gateway Plaza
Sackville Street
South Yorkshire
S70 2RD

July 4, 2019

Dear Mr. Graham, 

On May 24, 2019, Citizen Lab shared our concerns regarding the South Yorkshire Pensions Authority (the “Authority”)’s interest in Novalpina Capital and NSO Group. As outlined in our letter to you, there are serious human rights concerns regarding the use and deployment of NSO Group’s technology against human rights defenders and civil society actors. Yet, Novalpina Capital’s efforts to address these issues have been entirely deficient.

Further, in a recent statement in June 2019, Novalpina Capital announced that it intended to bring NSO Group in “full alignment” with the UN Guiding Principles (UNGPs). In response to this announcement, we issued a public statement to Novalpina Capital where we noted that the company’s intent to rely on national security and other purported obligations of confidentiality to avoid disclosing critical information regarding the abusive deployment of NSO Group technology meant that it was not possible for Novalpina Capital to comply with the UNGPs. We have not yet received a response to this correspondence from Novalpina Capital.

We understand that on May 24, 2019 you responded to our initial correspondence and stated that the Authority would respond “more fully to the specific questions” we raised in our letter after concluding “the next stage” of your dialogue with Novalpina Capital. We are now writing to request an update on the status of the Authority’s “dialogue” with Novalpina Capital and to seek substantive responses to our initial letter to the Authority. 

Further, you will no doubt agree that it is important for the Authority not to be associated with investments which breach the Authority’s own guidelines and raise serious human rights concerns. We are sure that your public sector investors would want to have confidence that their investments are dealt with according to high ethical standards. 

We note that the Authority issued a statement on January 22, 2019 defending its investments with BAE Systems which was involved with arms sales to Saudi Arabia because such sales were authorized by the UK government. However, on June 20, 2019 the UK Court of Appeal held that the grant of such export licenses was unlawful because of serious concerns about the violation of international humanitarian law by Saudi Arabia. As we understand, the Authority’s investments with Novalpina Capital does not even have any such government endorsement and your justification to invest would seem to be very vulnerable to criticism. As stated above, the reassurances given by Novalpina Capital to comply with the UNGPs are wholly inadequate. 

On such questionable investments, we understand that the Authority’s position is to try to “influence companies’ governance standards, environmental, human rights and other policies by constructive stakeholders engagement and the use of voting-rights” instead of divesting. However, given your minority investment in companies such as Novalpina Capital, this aspiration is simply unrealistic. 

In closing, we would urge you to seriously engage with the significant issues raised by your Authority’s investment with Novalpina Capital and we look forward to your outstanding reply to our correspondence dated May 24, 2019. 


Professor Ronald J. Deibert, OOnt
Professor of Political Science, Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy
Director, the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, University of Toronto