Burma Campaign UK and International Campaign for the Rohingya today welcomed notification from Western Union that they have stopped using the military-owned Myawaddy Bank as one of their agents in Burma.
The two organisations had organized a growing campaign to press Western Union to cut its ties to the Burmese military. Both organizations stressed that they did not want Western Union to stop operating in Burma, only to stop using a military-owned bank as one of its agents. Western Union still has hundreds of agents in the country.
In an email to Burma Campaign UK today, Western Union stated: “In Myanmar and other countries in conflict, Western Union plays a critical role in connecting people – whether families sending money to loved ones to meet basic needs like healthcare and food, or humanitarian aid organizations in need of funds for the work on the ground. Providing these services requires the use of local agents remunerated by a commission payment. Western Union conducts agent due diligence and oversight through periodic reviews to determine whether these agents satisfy relevant regulatory requirements and Western Union policies. As a result of such a review, Western Union has ended its contract with Myawaddy Bank, effective immediately.”
Western Union is one of the largest cross border financial transfer companies in the world. Myawaddy Bank is a subsidiary of a giant military business conglomerate called Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (UMEHL). Profits from Myawaddy Bank benefit the military.
The United Nations Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar (also known as Burma), set up by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate human rights violations in Burma, has called for sanctions on military-owned companies and for companies not to do business with the military.
Burma Campaign UK placed Western Union on its “Dirty List” of companies helping to fund Burma’s military in December 2018. https://burmacampaign.org.uk/take-action/dirty-list/. Western Union has now been removed from the ‘Dirty List’.
In September 2019, International Campaign for the Rohingya launched a consumer boycott of Western Union with a public petition: https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/tell-western-union-stop-funding-the-genocide-in-burma
In October 2019, 33 organisations wrote to Western Union calling on them to stop doing business with the Burmese military: https://rohingyacampaign.wordpress.com/2019/10/29/open-letter-to-western-union-president-and-ceo-hikmet-ersek/
“By partnering with Burma’s genocidal generals, Western Union had put at risk its reputation with its customers and its shareholders,” stated Simon Billenness, Executive Director of the International Campaign for the Rohingya and Campaign Director of No Business With Genocide. “We welcome Western Union’s decision to end its relationship with Myawaddy Bank. We expect other companies, such as Kirin Holdings of Japan, to follow Western Union’s example and cease doing business with Burma’s army.”
“Western Union deserve credit for doing the right thing. They are the biggest company so far to cut their business ties to the military,” said Mark Farmaner, Director of Burma Campaign UK. “This is a significant step forward in our campaign to stop international companies funding genocide and crimes against humanity in Burma. We will be stepping up pressure on other companies on our ‘Dirty List’ including Portia Management Services, a British company managing a military owned port in Yangon.”