Business

Information on Responsible Business Practices Largely Absent: Survey

By Paul Vrieze 24 July 2014

Most Burmese companies provide little to no information on whether they have policies on responsible business practices, a survey among 60 major firms has found, and almost half did not even have a website with general information about their activities.

A report by the Myanmar Center for Responsible Business, released on Tuesday, surveyed how much information companies posted on their websites on their human rights, health, safety and environment safeguards, organizational transparency and anti-corruption efforts.

The Rangoon-based, donor-funded center found that only nine firms had made information on policies, standards and practices in all three fields publicly available. Most other company websites provided information on only one of the categories, while 25 companies did not even have a website.

The information that was provided often dealt with the companies’ organizational structure.

“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.

During the past decades of military rule, Burmese firms often gained business concessions through secretive deals cut with the regime. Corruption was rife and firms plundered Burma’s natural resources, often through projects with heavy social and environmental impacts.

The ranked companies were given points on the availability of information in each of the three fields and gained a combined score of 1 to 10. The highest score was given to KBZ (Kanbawza) Group with 6.6 points, followed by Parami Energy Group of Companies with 6.58, and Max Myanmar Group with 5.8.

KBZ conglomerate is owned by tycoon Aung Ko Win and has interests in banking, insurance and airlines. The KBZ owner is also known to have had large mining interests. Parami Group is led by CEO Ken Tun and is a service provider in Burma’s growing oil and gas sector.

Max Myanmar conglomerate is owned by tycoon Zaw Zaw, who has a range of business interests, including in hotels, banking, cement and construction. His group of companies remains on a US sanctions blacklist because of past connections with the former junta.

“A surprisingly large number of companies surveyed scored zero overall,” the center said. “Generally because despite their size and activities in a number of sectors of significant public interest, such as hydropower, agriculture, mining, tourism and tobacco/beverages, they did not have a group website or corporate websites for the major subsidiaries.”

Major 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.

“We therefore want to encourage the local media and Myanmar civil society groups to study the public commitments that these companies have made, and hold them to account to deliver on them.”

The survey will be repeated in 2015.

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