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Is the State Department weakening a key human rights tool in Myanmar based on a secret business survey?

Author: Zamira Djabarova, EarthRights Intl. (USA), Published on: 24 June 2016

Since 2013, U.S. investors with more than $500,000 invested in Myanmar (Burma) have been required to report about the impact of their investments on human rights, labor rights and the environment. The U.S. Reporting Requirements for Responsible Investment in Burma serve as an important tool to hold U.S. companies accountable for the business they do abroad... 

About 60 organizations support renewal of the rule and called to strengthen it (including us)... Only two organizations criticized the Reporting Requirements. Their reason? It is too burdensome to find out if companies harm their workers or other people. Unsurprisingly, those critics were the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Chamber of Commerce Myanmar Chapter, known as AMCHAM Myanmar... 

So what did the State Department do...? While they proposed reissuing the Reporting Requirements, the proposal would increase the threshold of investment requiring reporting tenfold – from $500,000 to $5 million. The State Department decided that the Reporting Requirements should not apply to as many investors, effectively weakening the rule.

The positions of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce do not necessarily represent the business community. Individual U.S. companies, including Coca-Cola and The Gap, have spoken up in support of the Reporting Requirements, and no individual company submitted a critique... 

We don’t know what drove the State Department’s decision, but we have a guess. The State Department appears to have accepted comments by companies during the public comment period that have not been published or otherwise made public.

AMCHAM’s website features a survey about the Reporting Requirements – including the question, “What changes would you like see made to the current reporting requirements?” and the suggested response “Change the threshold for required reporting” – that it directed companies to submit to a contact at the U.S. Embassy in Yangon.... But neither AMCHAM, the Embassy, nor the State Department have made these survey responses publicly available. ERI has submitted a request pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act to find out what exactly went on in that exchange.

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