‘Dirty List’ Names 49 Firms Doing Business with Military

By Nyein Nyein 11 December 2018

CHIANG MAI, Thailand—A total of 49 companies worldwide are named and shamed in Burma Campaign UK’s latest “Dirty List” of firms that do business with the Myanmar Military. The list released on Tuesday comprises companies whose operations have been linked to human rights violations or environmental destruction in Myanmar.

The companies work in sectors including energy, telecommunications, Internet services, and arms and military equipment, and come from countries including China, Russia, India, Japan, the U.K., France, Norway, Ukraine, the U.S., Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines and Singapore.

Myanmar’s military, or Tatmadaw, operates its wide-ranging business interests through two conglomerates—Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (UMEH) and Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC)—both of which lack transparency, BCUK said.

Facebook is on the list, as is the money transfer service Western Union, which contracts with military-owned Myawaddy Bank. Energy companies from China and Thailand involved in constructing the Irrawaddy Myitsone Dam in Kachin State and a number of other high-profile dam projects along the Salween River in Shan State are also on The Dirty List.

BCUK director Mark Farmaner said the group’s aim in compiling the list is to focus international attention on the need to put more pressure on the military, which he said was “guilty of genocide” for its activities in northern Rakhine State in the last two years, which prompted a mass exodus of Rohingya into neighboring Bangladesh. He added that the Tatmadaw was responsible for the vast majority of human-rights violations in the country. According to BCUK, the Tatmadaw is also blocking democratic reforms, waging war against ethnic groups and obstructing the peace process.

Farmaner told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that, “There is no single measure that will pressure the military to change, but every small form of pressure will add up to stronger pressure. Everything that can put pressure on the military should be tried,” he said, because it currently enjoys impunity for committing human rights violations, sabotaging the peace process and blocking constitutional change.

He added, “[State Counselor Daw] Aung San Suu Kyi receives far more international criticism than [Army chief Senior General] Min Aung Hlaing, but Min Aung Hlaing is responsible for a lot more human rights violations than she is. There needs to be a lot more pressure on the military, and targeting their businesses is one way to do that.”

The group is not saying that companies like Western Union should not be in Myanmar, he said, but they should not be doing business with the military.

“Western Union doesn’t have to be in business with a military bank, VISA doesn’t have to promote a military golf course. We are not asking companies to pull out of Burma; we are asking them to change the way they do business in Burma, making sure they don’t help the military or get involved in projects linked to human rights violations,” Farmaner said.

BCUK said the European Union and governments around the world have decided not to impose targeted sanctions against military-owned and controlled companies, instead allowing companies to continue to do business with them. “To date,” the group said, “the main response of the international community to genocide in Burma has been to impose a ban on a small number of military personnel going on holiday to certain countries.”

Farmaner added that BCUK had notified the companies in advance to give them an opportunity to cut their ties to the military in order to avoid being named on the list. As a result, two companies that had previously supplied equipment to the military stopped doing so and were removed from the list, he said. Another company whose equipment was being sold to the military by a distributor without its knowledge intervened to end the practice.

The group has received complaints and legal threats. “The Belgian company NEWTEC threatened to sue us if we put them on the list, and Posco said it’s not fair to put them on the list even though they are in a joint business venture with the military,” Farmaner added.

BCUK said the list would be regularly updated and welcomed information about new companies with potential for inclusion.

The Irrawaddy tried to contact the Defense Ministry for comment on Tuesday, but was unable to reach any of the spokespersons on a list provided by the government.