Probe into Japan beer firm’s links to Myanmar rights abuses ‘inconclusive’

Japanese beer giant Kirin said Thursday an investigation into whether money from its joint ventures with the Myanmar military had funded rights abuses was “inconclusive”. Myanmar stands accused of genocide at the UN’s top court after a brutal 2017 crackdown by the military forced 750,000 northern Rakhine Muslims to flee to refugee camps in Bangladesh.

After mounting pressure from rights groups and UN investigators, Kirin Holdings last year asked consultancy group Deloitte to determine how the money from its business tie-ups with Myanmar military-owned breweries had been used.
“Unfortunately, the assessment was inconclusive as a result of Deloitte being unable to access sufficient information required to make a definitive determination,” Kirin said. It is “wholly unacceptable” for any proceeds from the joint ventures to be used for military purposes, its statement added. Myanmar denies committing genocide, justifying the 2017 operations as a means of rooting out the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army armed group.

The military also stands accused of widespread abuses in its operations to stem insurgencies by various other ethnic minority groups in the country’s restive borderlands. The New York-based Human Rights Watch urged Kirin Holdings Company, Ltd. to publish its investigation report on the military-owned Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. (MEHL) and swiftly cut ties with the company. “Kirin should regain some trust of consumers, investors, and rights groups by releasing the details of its investigation into the operations of its Myanmar military business partner,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Kirin’s business association with MEHL raises serious human rights concerns that need urgent action, not further obfuscation behind an investigation whose results are kept secret.”

In its January 7 statement, Kirin said the investigation by Deloitte was “inconclusive as a result of Deloitte being unable to access sufficient information required to make a definitive determination.” Kirin said the investigation aimed to determine the “destination of proceeds received by” MEHL from Myanmar Brewery Ltd. (MBL) and Mandalay Brewery Ltd. (MDL), and that it would provide “further update” on its business activities in Myanmar by the end of April. Kirin owns a majority stake in Myanmar Brewery Ltd. and Mandalay Brewery Ltd. in partnership with the military-owned-and-operated MEHL. In 2015, Kirin bought 55 percent of Myanmar Brewery Ltd., 4 percent of which it later transferred to the military-owned firm. In 2017, Kirin acquired 51 percent of Mandalay Brewery Ltd. in a separate joint venture with the firm.

Myanmar Brewery, whose beverages include its flagship and ubiquitous Myanmar Beer brand, on its own boasts a market share of nearly 80 percent, according to figures published by Kirin in 2018. Kirin said Thursday it would uphold a suspension of dividend payments from both breweries that was originally issued in November. A United Nations-backed Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar reported in 2018 that atrocities committed by Myanmar’s armed forces “rise to the level of both war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

In a September 2019 report, the panel concluded that “any foreign business activity” involving Myanmar’s military and its conglomerates Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. and Myanmar Economic Corporation pose “a high risk of contributing to or being linked to, violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law.” “It’s been more than a year since the UN Fact-Finding Mission strongly advised foreign companies to cut their ties with the Myanmar military, yet Kirin is still dragging its feet with what should be a clear decision,” Robertson said.
“Kirin should realize that the longer their involvement with the Myanmar armed forces, the greater their risk of complicity in military abuses, further tarnishing the company’s human rights record,” he added. Myanmar’s military did not answer calls for comment.

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Source: Myanmar Times

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