Most foreign investors evasive on human rights commitment: report

19 February 2015
Most foreign investors evasive on human rights commitment: report
Over 800 international and local business leaders, policymakers, financiers and economists attend the Myanmar Global Investment Forum at the Myanmar International Convention Centre Two in Nay Pyi Twa, Myanmar on September 16, 2014. Photo: Hein Htet/Mizzima

Amid human rights concerns linked to the investment surge in Myanmar, too few companies publicly discuss their human rights policies and due diligence efforts, according to the findings of the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre on February 17.
Only a handful of foreign companies investing in Myanmar were able to point to substantive actions when invited to publicly respond to questions on their human rights commitments in Myanmar, the UK and US-based centre reports after reaching out to over 100 companies through its “Myanmar Foreign Investment Tracking Project.”
The centre said only 57 out of 108 companies approached responded, and only 24 of them referred to human rights policies with respect to their investments or activities in Myanmar. Even fewer described undertaking due diligence efforts prior to investing. These findings echo concerns raised by local communities and human rights organizations that human rights issues are not being adequately addressed as foreign companies invest in resource-rich Myanmar.
Some companies showed through their responses that they are leading in the area of human rights due diligence in Myanmar, and have provided useful guidance for other companies, according to the centre. Among the stronger responses came from oil and gas company BG Group, which explained its cross-functional approach to implementing its human rights policy; Adidas and Coca-Cola, which detailed not only their due diligence process prior to engagement, but also their on-going efforts; and Telenor, which cited a local system of reporting grievances related to sustainability issues.
Ms Irene Pietropaoli, a researcher for the project, noted that too many foreign companies investing in Myanmar are not doing enough to address the risk of causing or contributing to human rights abuses.
“The inability of most companies contacted to disclose their human rights commitments is worrying. Foreign companies are entering a country in transition where their responsibilities towards people and communities are extensive, and where enhanced human rights due diligence and transparency are especially important in taking a leadership role and influencing local partners,” she said.
The centre noted that it was disappointing that some major firms did not respond to the request, such as Andritz Hydro, which will be involved in a number of hydropower projects throughout the country; Huawei, which is a main supplier of major telecom operators in the country; as well as a number of oil and gas companies.
The centre wrote to foreign companies investing or operating in Myanmar in the extractive, manufacturing, agriculture, tourism, finance, construction, and information and communications technology sectors.
The response rate of companies with headquarters in Europe the Americas is over 65 percent, while that of companies headquartered in Asia and the Pacific is 35 percent. Among the Asian companies that responded is Wanbao Mining, which has been facing a series of human rights allegations in relation to its Letpadaung copper mine. While it did not respond to the questions one by one, it used the survey as a platform for explaining its community efforts, including land compensation and impact assessments.
As one researcher said, foreign companies operating and investing in Myanmar must take practical steps to ensure that they are not involved in human rights abuses, and must use their influence to promote respect for rights among local partners and suppliers.