In a recent article posted on the Irrawaddy, the Myanmar Center for Responsible Business (MCRB) reports that among 60 of the largest Myanmar companies, only a handful reported their human rights, health, safety and environment safeguards, organizational transparency and anti-corruption efforts. The report points out that 25 of the companies polled did not have websites, making any disclosure all but impossible. As noted by MCRB, “[m]ajor companies without a website include Eden, IGE, Ruby Dragon, Shwe Thanlwin, Yuzana, Zaykaba, and the two military-owned conglomerates, Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (UMEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC).”
“This is a study of what information companies publish, and not an assessment of their actual performance in these areas,” Vicky Bowman, director of the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business, said of the survey, which was based on methodology of Transparency International’s research into 100 of the world’s biggest companies.” “Companies scored fewest points in the areas of human rights, including land acquisition, and [health, safety and environment], where the center was seeking evidence both of policy approaches and information about their implementation, given that these issues are of significant concern to the Myanmar people,” the center said in a press release.
The implications for international companies entering the Myanmar market are significant. In particular, joint ventures with local companies pose serious human rights risks for foreign businesses, particularly those operating in manufacturing and agriculture. Given the history of land seizures by the military from local farmers and the lack of adequate land tenure laws, the risk of engaging in new business development places companies in a position of potentially violating international human rights norms, including the right to food, the rights of indigenous peoples and the right to housing, among others. An interesting analysis of land rights and international human rights law can be found here.
Given this lack of transparency, U.S. companies in particular, facing the Burma Reporting Requirement for businesses operating in the country, face added risk for underreporting the human rights impact of their business operations when engaging with local partners.