Most foreign investors in Myanmar silent or evasive when asked about their human rights commitments
Myanmar, 17 February 2015 – Only a handful of foreign companies investing in Myanmar were able to point to substantive actions when invited to publicly respond to questions on their human rights commitments in Myanmar, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre reports today after reaching out to over 100 companies through its Myanmar Foreign Investment Tracking Project.
Fifty-seven of the 108 companies approached responded, and only 24 of them referred to human rights policies with respect to their investments or activities in Myanmar. Even fewer described undertaking due diligence efforts prior to investing. These findings echo concerns raised by local communities and human rights organizations that human rights issues are not being adequately addressed as foreign companies invest in the resource-rich country.
Some companies showed through their responses that they are leading in the area of human rights due diligence in Myanmar, and have provided useful guidance for other companies. Among the stronger responses came from oil and gas company BG Group, which explained its cross-functional approach to implementing its human rights policy; adidas and Coca-Cola, which detailed not only their due diligence process prior to engagement, but also their on-going efforts; and Telenor, which cited a local system of reporting grievances related to sustainability issues.
It is disappointing that some major firms did not respond to the request, such as Andritz Hydro, which will be involved in a number of hydropower projects throughout the country; Huawei, which is a main supplier of major telecom operators in the country; as well as a number of oil and gas companies. Business & Human Rights Resource Centre continues to welcome responses from these firms and other non-responders.
Business & Human Rights Resource Centre wrote to foreign companies investing or operating in Myanmar in the extractive, manufacturing, agriculture, tourism, finance, construction, and information and communications technology sectors. It sought public disclosure of: the nature of their business in the country, their policies regarding key human rights issues, their human rights due diligence measures, and contact information that local communities could use to raise concerns.
The response rate of companies with headquarters in Europe the Americas is over 65%, while that of companies headquartered in Asia and the Pacific is 35%. Among the Asian companies that responded is Wanbao Mining, which has been facing a series of human rights allegations in relation to its Letpadaung mine. While it did not respond to the questions one by one, it used the survey as a platform for explaining its community efforts, including land compensation and impact assessments. Business & Human Rights Resource Centre welcomes community and civil society reactions and rejoinders to this and the other company responses.
The tracking project was designed to respond to the need for increased transparency, a necessary element of responsible business practice in Myanmar. It aims to ensure that stakeholders, especially local people, have access to human-rights related information on companies and are able to engage with these companies in the manner they see appropriate. All company responses received so far are available on the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre website.
Bobbie Sta. Maria, Southeast Asia researcher and representative, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre said:
“Foreign companies operating and investing in Myanmar must take practical steps to ensure that they are not involved in human rights abuses, and must use their influence to promote respect for rights among local partners and suppliers. Publicly engaging companies about their human rights commitments is an important first step. While it does not necessarily reflect the companies’ actual practices, it encourages them to ensure that human rights considerations are written into business plans, and provides affected stakeholders with a starting point for meaningful engagement”
Business & Human Rights Resource Centre is hosting a roundtable of civil society leaders from Myanmar to assess the responses, and discuss possible ways to get more companies engaged and to check whether stated policies are being implemented in practice.
Irene Pietropaoli, a researcher for the project, adds:
“Too many foreign companies investing in Myanmar are not doing enough to address the risk of causing or contributing to human rights abuses. The inability of most companies contacted to disclose their human rights commitments is worrying. Foreign companies are entering a country in transition where their responsibilities towards people and communities are extensive, and where enhanced human rights due diligence and transparency are especially important in taking a leadership role and influencing local partners.”
Notes for editors
Irene Pietropaoli (Yangon) – [email protected]; +95 920252535202
Bobbie Sta. Maria (Manila) – [email protected]; +63 916 4039390
Link to Myanmar Foreign Investment Tracking Project page:
Additional company responses will be published on an on-going basis, and companies that did not meaningfully respond on the first round are encouraged to update their responses on the tracking database.
Business & Human Rights Resource welcomes inputs from concerned stakeholders about other companies to contact, or assessments of responses received so far.
Business & Human Rights Resource Centre is an international NGO that tracks the human rights impacts (positive & negative) of over 6000 companies in over 180 countries making information available on its eight language website. We seek responses from companies when concerns are raised by civil society. The response rate is over 70% globally.