Oceanic Group, a Wellington New Zealand-based telecom operator, is part of a successful bid by global communications giant Ooredoo for one of two mobile phone licenses awarded to private companies by the Myanmar Government. Ooredoo is building the mobile network in Myanmar, where less than 10 per cent of the 65 million residents have mobile phones, and only 13 per cent have access to electricity, according to the Timaru Herald. The Myanmar government is hoping for an 80% market penetration into the wireless market that today sees only 10% of the population using cellular technology. However, as Western governments open up trading with Myanmar, some in the international community are expressing concerns with regard to the human rights impacts from the influx of new business activity. In a report issued in 2013, “REFORMING TELECOMMUNICATIONS IN BURMA: Human Rights and Responsible Investment in Mobile and the Internet,” Human Rights Watch laid out a number of steps that companies receiving licenses from the government should consider when operating in the country, including:
- Assess human rights risks raised by potential business activity.
- Develop strategies to mitigate the risk of abuses linked to business operations.
- Adopt human rights policies outlining how the company will resist government requests for censorship, illegal surveillance, or network shutdowns.
- Ensure transparency by publishing terms of operating agreements and information on consortiums formed to operate in Burma, and by reporting on the number of government requests received for censorship and surveillance and how the company responded.
- Vet potential business partners to ensure they are not implicated in human rights abuses or corruption.
- Conduct due diligence to address human rights concerns that may arise from land acquisitions and security arrangements.
- Commit to independent and transparent third-party monitoring to ensure compliance with human rights standards.
These recommendations are in line with the U.S. government’s requirements imposed on U.S. companies investing more than $500,000 in Burma when it lifted sanctions for doing business in the country. Oceanic, a privately held New Zealand-based company, and its partner Ooredoo, which is based in Qatar, do not appear to have human rights policies that are made available to the public. Whether this telecom consortium adopts policies that address the potential human rights risks arising out of their business in Myanmar remains to be seen.