Myanmar: Thilawa economic zone launches complaint mechanism, NGO says it falls short of intl. standards; inc. responses from company & other agencies

The Thilawa special economic zone (SEZ), located 23 km southeast of Yangon, is the first large-scale SEZ in Myanmar and is being developed in phases under Myanmar Japan Thilawa Development Ltd. (MJTD), a public-private partnership joint venture initiated by Myanmar and Japan. The first Zone A development started in late 2013, and there are currently nearly 90 investors in the Thilawa SEZ, with many more anticipated for Zone B. The development of Zone A affected 81 households, 68 of them relocated in late 2013 by the Myanmar Government. Some relocated villagers and civil society organizations were critical of the relocation process and the site, as it had a number of infrastructure problems early on, some of which have since been resolved. Concerns included loss of farmland and/or access to farmland; loss of livelihood opportunities; impoverishment; loss of educational opportunities; substandard housing and basic infrastructure; loss of access to adequate clean water. More information about the Thilawa SEZ can be found here.

Communities and people affected by the project have sought remedy through various means. In mid-2013, JICA commenced providing technical assistance for the Thilawa SEZ Management Committee (TSMC) and Yangon Regional Government (YRG), including with regard to complaints management. In October 2017, a Thilawa SEZ complaints review was undertaken in conjunction with TSMC and MJTD Community Relations personnel and with JICA support. As part of this process, more than 200 stakeholders within and external to the SEZ were consulted, including project affected peoples and communities. The outcome of the Thilawa SEZ Complaints Review was development of an integrated Thilawa SEZ Complaints Management Procedure (TCMP), which can be accessed here. More information about the process for creating the TCMP is available here.

Since 2013, EarthRights International (ERI) has been working with some community members impacted by the Thilawa SEZ, supporting efforts to access remedy. At a meeting in May 2015, community members in attendance elected a 16-member group to lead the design of a community-driven operational grevience mechanism, with the understanding that the mechanism would need broader community feedback and input, and that the final draft would need informed support and approval. In late 2016, the Design Committee completed a draft of the full CD-OGM design process steps; the draft and a diagram of the model is available here.

ERI has published an analysis of the TCMP, which it believes "falls severely short of international good practice."

In February 2018, the CD-OGM Design Committee sent a letter to MJTD requesting a meeting to work together to create a remedy mechanism that is satisfactory for the local community, project implementers, and investors.

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited Myanmar Japan Thilawa Development Ltd., Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), and the Yangon region government and Thilawa SEZ Management Committee to respond to ERI's analysis. Their statements are available below.

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Article
8 March 2018

Thilawa Complaints Management Procedure (TCMP)

Author: Thilawa Management Committee (TSMC) and Myanmar Japan Thilawa Development Limited (MJTD)

Thilawa Management Committee (TSMC) and Myanmar Japan Thilawa Development Limited (MJTD) has jointly launched Thilawa Complaints Management Procedure (TCMP) to receive, investigate and facilitate resolution of stakeholders’ concerns and grievances regarding with TSEZ’s activities... The TCMP is designed to be accessible by affected individuals and community. TCMP allows stakeholders to raise questions or concerns with TSEZ’s activities and have them addressed in a prompt, transparent and respectful manner. Moreover, concerns of the communities are identified through monthly home visits, quarterly coordination meetings and the other direct contact with the local people in the area. 

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Article
6 March 2018

Letter from CD-OGM Design Committee to MJTD

Author: Thilawa CD-OGM Design Committee Members

Sent on 6 February 2018

The purpose of designing CD-OGM is to get fair remedy and to consider the voices of local community that is reflect in designing CD-OGM. In May 2015, the community from the relocation site who were already relocated from Zone A and the community from different six villages which will be effected in Zone B selected the community representatives who will design CD-OGM... We believe that the CD-OGM we designed is benefit for both sides of our local community and project implementers.

... We have asked for your collaboration on this CD-OGM many times since 2016. We found out recently that the project implementers were trying to disclose to our local community about a system title by “Thiliawa Complaints Management Procedure (TCMP)”. We heard that it is available on MJTD website, but we don't have computers, and plus it is only in English. Instead of collaborating on our CD-OGM which we designed over a long time with hard work, you create something different that did not include us. It fells like you are trying to make our work disappear. People have told us that they are confused, and some people are frustrated that this feels like it is dividing us... We, Design Committee Members, would like to request you for a meeting in order to come out the best solution. We still believe we can work together.

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Article
5 March 2018

Analysis of the Thilawa SEZ Complaints Management Procedure

Author: EarthRights International

Both the process for creating the TCMP and the content therein fall severely short of international good practice. Under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), a grievance mechanism should be ‘based on engagement and dialogue.’ The TCMP reflects not just a lack of engagement and dialogue, but an active rejection of both. We are disappointed that the Thilawa SEZ (TSEZ) parties have elected to reject three years’ worth of requests from community members to collaborate on a multi-stakeholder grievance process. Rather, in the face of consistent efforts from the Thilawa community towards meaningful dialogue, the TSEZ parties chose to spend time and money to create a competing complaints procedure... By creating a new, competing mechanism, the stakeholders have not only incurred additional expenses and lost relevant information, but have also caused both confusion and distrust in the community.

...International good practice requires grievance mechanisms to be accessible, predictable, equitable, legitimate, rights-compatible, and transparent. The TCMP meets none of these criteria... Adequate research into good practice was not conducted...[and the TCMP] omits reference to key international good practice indicators and obligations; omits any reference to vulnerable groups; lacks impartiality; and lacks oversight.

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Article
28 February 2018

Background statement prepared by JICA expert team

Author: JICA expert team

In mid-2013, JICA commenced providing technical assistance for the Thilawa SEZ Management Committee (TSMC) and Yangon Regional Government (YRG), including in regards to complaints management... In late 2014, JICA technical assistance was accelerated, to facilitate ongoing improvements and strengthen alignment with international practices in responsible business and social performance... Since late 2016... MJTD commenced a regular engagement program with communities in proximity to the SEZ,... TSMC conducted a rapid socio-economic impact review of 11 project-affected communities located in close proximity to the SEZ,... [and] JICA commenced supporting an ongoing formal social performance training program on land acquisition and resettlement for Thilawa SEZ and other Government of Myanmar stakeholders.

... [I]n October 2017, a Thilawa SEZ complaints review was undertaken... [and] more than 200 stakeholders... were consulted... The primary focus was to establish a complaints management system that both: i) recognised the needs and preferences of individuals and communities affected by the SEZ... and ii) which aligned with existing TSMC/MJTD management systems... The outcome... was [the] development of an integrated Thilawa SEZ Complaints Management Procedure (TCMP)... To inform the specific design of the TCMP, an additional 250 stakeholders were consulted during November 2017... [T]he first complaint following the processes outlined in the integrated TCMP was raised by a project affected person on 12th November 2017.

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Article
28 February 2018

Myanmar Japan Thilawa Development Ltd. (MJTD) response

Author: Myanmar Japan Thilawa Development Ltd.

Myanmar Japan Thilawa Development Limited, as a signatory to the U.N. Global Compact, has engaged, continues to engage and remains open to all forms of engagement from any party who shares our commitment to ensuring that communities affected by the project are treated equitably and be given fair consideration for remedial measures. At any stage of our project, we welcome discourse aimed at improving our operations, supporting access to financial and vocational assistance for affected people and continuing our policy of transparency in compliance with international best practice. Importantly, we believe that for any discourse or criticism to be effective, it must be truthful and accurate to protect the credibility of truthful complaints founded on real evidence. We stand by the quality of the Thilawa Complaints Management Procedure (TCMP), yet we remain open to any improvement enabling us to best serve the interests of all project stakeholders and inspire more foreign businesses to invest in the country.

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Article
28 February 2018

Statement by JICA

Author: JICA

Our focus is on continuing to support Thilawa SEZ including TSMC for implementing the integrated TCMP (Thilawa SEZ Complaints Management Procedure) which has been put into practice over the last several months within the area affected by the SEZ such as the investors, the factories. As indicated in the statement for background information, JICA has been providing for many years technical support to the Myanmar Government for its appropriate environmental and social impact management in accordance with international good practice and our own guideline. We will continue to engage and remain open to any party who shares our commitment to ensure PACs/PAPs are treated equitably and given fair consideration for remedial measures.

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Article
28 February 2018

Statement by Yangon regional government & Thilawa SEZ Management Committee

Author: Yangon regional government & Thilawa SEZ Management Committee

Yangon Regional Government, which is taking a leading role for resettlement, relocation and income restoration program for Thilawa SEZ project and the Thilawa Special Economic Zone Management Committee (TSMC)... would like to affirm our support for the initiatives to further develop the Thilawa Special Economic Zone whilst ensuring communities affected by the project are treated equitably and be given fair consideration for remedial measures. Key to this is the Thilawa Complaints Management Procedure (TCMP) that was implemented following consultations with more than 300 stakeholders within and external to the SEZ. The measures of the TCMP were put in place to efficiently address concerns and facilitate access to financial and vocational assistance for affected people, in compliance with international best practice and the laws of the country... [W]e do recognize the need for continued dialogue and engagement with all of Thilawa SEZ's stakeholders and the communities affected in transparent terms, even as we move forward with its development. To this end, we support the TCMP and the efforts by the TSMC to ensure that it is effectively and properly implemented to fairly serve the interests of all those impacted by the project.

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