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April 8, 2021 - Updated on April 9, 2021

Stop funding Myanmar’s generals, RSF tells 10 multinationals

Burmese protesters denounce the complicity of some foreign companies, including Total and Chevron, whom RSF contacted by mail, with the military regime on 12 February (photo: Dawei Watch).
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is calling on 10 foreign companies still operating in Myanmar to take concrete steps to end their economic support for the country’s military government. After two months of constant deterioration in the press freedom situation, these companies must finally act on their commitment to human rights, RSF says.

Live rounds have been fired at reporters. Media outlets have been raided. The Internet has been completely disconnected. The junta’s systematic persecution of journalists and its determination to suppress all news sources to which its citizens have access show that diplomacy and international sanctions are not enough to rein in the constantly escalating repression.

 

So, RSF is calling on multinationals still operating in Myanmar to end all cooperation with the Tatmadaw – as the armed forces are officially known – both in their business activities and the financial support they provide. Letters to this effect have already been sent to the CEOs of ten of them, including the French oil firm Total, the Swedish ICT company Ericsson, the French hotel chain Accor and the South Korean steel and energy giant POSCO.

 

“The fine words of the multinationals with a presence in Myanmar must now be transformed into concrete action,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF's Asia-Pacific desk. “They must assume their share of responsibility by clearly opposing this illegitimate and bloody regime. We urge the ten companies contacted by RSF to take real measures to stop directly or indirectly funding Myanmar’s generals and, where relevant, to end their complicity in the generalised censorship that the junta is trying to impose.”

 

Complicity

 

In early February, some of these companies signed up to a joint statement initiated by the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business, affirming a commitment to human rights in the country. Since then, the repression has taken a really shocking turn, with more than 500 people killed and nearly 60 journalists arrested. But most of these companies have taken no credible measure.

 

Some multinationals are directly involved in the telecommunications sector and play a key role in access to information. They include the Norwegian state telecom company Telenor, the Swedish telecom equipment provider Ericsson and the French TV and film group Canal+.

 

Others provide the military government with significant financial resources by paying taxes or through direct business links with their military, who run two conglomerates with ramifications in most of the country’s economic sectors – Myanmar Economic Holdings Public Company Limited (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation Limited (MEC).

 

Murky relations

 

Many international companies are linked to these two conglomerates via joint enterprises. RSF has called on three hotel chains – France’s Accor, Japan’s Okura Nikko Hotel Management and South Korea’s Lotte Hotels and Resorts – to shed light on their relations with the Tatmadaw and its business entities.

 

In the energy sector – a significant and indispensable source of funding for the military regime – RSF is pressing companies such as France’s Total, America’s Chevron and South Korea’s POSCO about their continuing involvement in Myanmar’s offshore Yadana gas field.

 

In 2019, Total alone paid the Myanmar state 230 million US dollars in gas acquisitions and taxes, making the French company its biggest single source of funding. Other energy companies such as Australia’s Woodside and Malaysia’s Petronas have meanwhile simply suspended their operations in Myanmar.

 

The Anglo-Dutch food and consumer goods conglomerate Unilever, whose executives have also been contacted by RSF, has taken no measure in response to the military junta’s increasingly bloody crackdown. But its Japanese competitor, the beverages company Kirin, terminated its partnership with a local brewery four days after the 1 February coup.

 

Myanmar is currently ranked 139th out of 180 countries in RSF's World Press Freedom Index.