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14 Sep 2021

Salil Tripathi, John Morrison, Vicky Bowman, Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB)

Commentary: "Staying or Leaving Myanmar? What’s Needed is a Human Rights-led Approach"

14 September 2021


Drawing on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, it could make sense to cut ties with Myanmar if a business is contributing to, or directly linked to, harm and cannot exercise any leverage – collectively or individually – to prevent or mitigate that harm. [...] In the manufacturing sector, companies have the leverage to ensure at least their own operations, and usually those of their business partners, respect human rights on issues such as worker safety, fair wages, and respecting the rights to freedom of association and expression, and not to be discriminated against, including as a union member.  


Another serious question businesses must consider – particularly in a highly militarised situation – is whether to also run the risk of being complicit in the human rights abuses of others, and even legally liable. But does simply ‘being there’ make a business complicit in the abuses of Myanmar’s military regime? [...] Professor John Ruggie, the author of the UN Guiding Principles, writing in his 2008 report to the UN Human Rights Council noted that "mere presence in a country, paying taxes, or silence in the face of abuse is unlikely to amount to the practical assistance required for legal liability".   

Nonetheless, companies in countries affected by conflict like Myanmar should always consider this risk. And no company should rule out withdrawal. Companies should continuously review their operations and consider whether these are in any way connected to harm. [...]

We encourage all businesses with operations or supply chains in Myanmar to embark on such heightened due diligence, if they have not already done so, and to publish a summary of their conclusions. [...]   

[Companies mentioned in the commentary are Htoo Group of Companies and Telenor]