RSF urges multinationals still in Myanmar to stop supporting junta
On the eve of the first anniversary of the 1 February 2021 coup d’état in Myanmar, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on all multinational corporations still providing Myanmar’s military with direct or indirect economic support to follow the example set by energy giants Chevron and Total, which announced on 21 January that they are terminating all operations in this country.
The decision taken by Chevron and Total (now officially called TotalEnergies) to end 30 years of complicity with Myanmar’s military, one of the world’s worst press freedom violators, must pave the way for a global corporate withdrawal from Myanmar. All multinationals still maintaining a presence there must now take concrete steps to end their own complicity with the junta, RSF says.
“With relief, we welcome the decisions taken by energy giants Total and Chevron, which in practice are going to stop providing Myanmar’s junta with substantial income,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
“Other leading multinationals unfortunately continue to prioritise their short-term commercial interests to the detriment of respect for the basic rights of Myanmar’s citizens, starting with their right to freely reported news and information. As a matter of urgency, all major economic actors such as Thales, MAN et DHL must be guided by a sense of ethics and the law and must, in turn, cease any activity that makes them complicit with the military regime.”
In the same way that it had previously contacted Total and Chevron, RSF contacted the French multinational Thales in November to ask it to terminate all direct and even indirect technology transfers to Myanmar’s military – technology that can potentially be used to spy on and hunt down journalists.
The corporations that have so far taken no specific measures include the German vehicle manufacturer MAN, whose trucks are used to transport Myanmar’s troops, and the South Korean steel-making giant POSCO, which have contented themselves with denying any links to the military and its network of companies in order to avoid taking any concrete action.
By continuing their activities in Myanmar and by paying unjustified taxes they nonetheless help, in practice, to fund the terror orchestrated by the Tatmadaw, as the armed forces are called. Other corporations, such as Germany’s DHL and the Japanese hotel giant Okura Nikko, have completely ignored RSF’s approaches.
RSF wrote to 15 multinationals
Immediately after last year’s coup, RSF began exploring ways to deprive the junta of its sources of funding by pressuring multinational corporations to take a stand vis-à-vis the dictatorship. RSF wrote to 15 multinationals on 1 April but, for the most part, they responded with talk about the need to pursue the country's development. RSF sent a second series of letters in late June, this time pressing them to take concrete steps to stop directly or indirectly supporting the Tatmadaw.
This action paid off in several cases. The French electricity provider Voltalia, which had close business ties with companies linked to the armed forces and which had been contacted by RSF even before the coup, announced its withdrawal from Myanmar in the spring of 2021. The Norwegian telecommunications giant Telenor announced its desire to shed its assets in Myanmar in July. The Swedish multinational Ericsson followed suit soon afterwards.
Together with the latest announcements by Chevron and Total, these cases show that the multinational corporations present in Myanmar are capable of ceasing to be complicit in the junta’s crimes. Aside from the question of ethics, it shows a long-term vision, one that takes account of the reputational risks inherent in the pursuit of business relations with a murderous dictatorship.
Since seizing power by force a year ago, Myanmar’s military has been responsible for the arrests of around 100 journalists, of whom 57 are currently in prison, according to RSF’s press freedom barometer. Three journalists were also recently killed in the space of a month – the photographer Soe Naing, Federal News Journal editor Sai Win Aung, and Khonumthung Media Group founder and editor Pu Tuidim, who was used as a human shield before being shot by soldiers.
Myanmar is ranked 140th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.