The Responsibility of Business
While the horrors of Rakhine State Crisis continue to emerge, it is business as usual for the private sector in Myanmar, including those with long-standing interests in Rakhine State. Yet if international corporations were committed to sustainable investment that would benefit the people of Myanmar, it could do well by using its position and influence to apply pressure to end the violence and human rights violations committed by Myanmar Army and its security forces.
It was reported last week that the Chinese conglomerate, China International Trust Investment Cooperation, agreed with the Myanmar Government to take a 70% stake in the Kyaukpyhu Sea Port in Rakhine State. The port is part of the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ) and is the gateway for oil and gas to be transported across Myanmar into China’s Yunnan Province, forming part of China’s multi-country infrastructure initiative, the One Belt One Road. It also allows oil and gas to bypass the Malacca Straits, thus cutting down on security risks and transportation costs for China’s energy needs.
In the same week, the human rights and environmental impacts of SEZs in Myanmar and Cambodia were highlighted in report by Focus on the Global South, released in Yangon on 20 October, 2017. The report “concludes that the legislative and governance structures covering the development and operation of SEZs have been skewed toward the interests of investors and against those of locals and the environment.” It highlights the lack of transparency, the poor governance and administration of SEZs, the lack of consultation with local people, the lack of implementation of environmental standards and legislation, and the challenges faced by workers.
The problems highlighted by this study reinforce previous work and documentation regarding human rights and environmental issues in Kyaukphyu, Dawei and Thilawa SEZs in the past few years. Yet despite these concerns, and the mass exodus of Rohingya villagers in Rakhine State, China – the biggest investor in Rakhine State – is forging on with its economic self-interest. That the Myanmar Government is relying on Chinese investment in Rakhine State puts the Chinese state-business nexus in a position of huge influence regarding what is happening to the Rohingya and thus is able to apply direct pressure to end atrocities against the civilian population.
This is a move that the World Bank has taken as it delayed a $200million development loan over concerns of “the violence, destruction and forced displacement of the Rohingya.” Pressure on oil and gas companies is also increasing. A letter signed by 31 investor organizations representing more than $53 billion in assets was sent to the executives of six of the biggest oil and gas companies noting that their investment in Myanmar “creates a special obligation for [the company] to both express its concern over recent events and to reassess its relationship with the government in light of the Burmese government’s recent military actions against Rohingya communities.” This follows a similar letter sent to the US company, Chevron in August 2017.
The impacts of natural resource extraction in other parts of Myanmar, particularly those that have experienced decades of armed conflict have further exacerbated conflict. A call from the Burma Environmental Working Group (BEWG) for a moratorium on natural resource projects until a federal constitution has been adopted and a Union Peace Accord has been signed, reflects the huge concerns over negative impacts of natural resource extraction projects. According to the BEWG statement, “Bilateral ceasefires with ethnic armed groups in resource rich ethnic areas have unleashed rampant natural resource exploitation, especially in the hydropower, mining and agribusiness sectors. Controlled by the central government and secured by their armed forces, these natural resource projects have expanded Naypyitaw’s political, economic and military domination.”
The investment from businesses in Myanmar, especially those in Rakhine State that benefit from the extraction of natural resources from this violence-torn state, whether deep sea ports, SEZs, or oil and gas, gives companies significant leverage over state policy. Furthermore, as seen with SEZs and natural resource extraction projects in other parts of the country have had damaging environmental and human rights impacts. Rather than carrying on business as usual, the private sector must take into consideration the concerns of local people, and show that they are responsible investors by adhering to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and by applying due pressure on the Myanmar Government and Army over the state-sponsored violence against minorities such as the Rohingya.
 One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.
Resources from the past week
Statements and Press Releases
Statement by Adama Dieng, United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide and Ivan Simonovic, United Nations Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect, on the situation in northern Rakhine state, Myanmar
By Adama Dieng, UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide and Ivan Simonovic, UN Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect
Myanmar: Crimes Against Humanity Terrorize and Drive Rohingya Out
By Amnesty International
Food Shortages Continue Throughout All of Rakhine State as Rohingya Continue to Flee
By Burma Human Rights Network
Myanmar/Burma: Council Adopts Conclusions
By European Council
Joint Statement on the Rohingya Refugee Crisis
By Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator and William Lacy Swing, Director General, International Organization for Migration
Burma: New Satellite Images Confirm Mass Destruction
By Human Rights Watch
Burma: Sentencing of Environmental Rights Defender Mr. Khaing Myo Htun
By International Federation for Human Rights
The Asia Foundation Releases New Report on Armed Conflict, Aid, and Development in Myanmar
By The Asia Foundation
Note to Correspondents: Visit of the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs to Myanmar
By United Nations Information Centre in Myanmar
Myanmar: “My world is finished”. Rohingya targeted in crimes against humanity in Myanmar
By Amnesty International
The Contested Areas of Myanmar: Subnational Conflict, Aid, and Development
By The Asia Foundation
Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”