UN calls for companies to bolster HRDD in Myanmar 

ARTICLE | 19 September 2019

For the first time, the UN has published a report containing details of the business interests of Myanmar’s military. The report echoes Swedwatch research on human rights risks linked to jade mining and calls for companies to conduct heightened HRDD when doing business in the country.

The UN International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar presented a report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva this week on the worsening human rights situation in the country. Part of the mission’s findings, initially published in August, relate to two corporations holding jade mining licences in Kachin state that are owned by high ranking military officers. According to the UN report, the companies have been linked to serious human rights violations.

“All companies doing business in or buying goods from Myanmar should conduct heightened due diligence to ensure they are not benefiting the Tatmadaw [Myanmar military],” the UN said in a statement.

The report, entitled The Economic Interests of the Myanmar Military, also lists foreign companies with ties to the Tatmadaw and calls for concrete action to address corporate responsibility to respect human rights.

“The implementation of the recommendations in this report will erode the economic base of the military … impair its ability to carry out military operations without oversight and thus reduce violations of human rights and international humanitarian law”, Marzuki Darusman, the head of the UN mission said.

The responsibility of companies to conduct thorough human rights due diligence (HRDD) when selling products to business actors in Myanmar was highlighted in Swedwatch’s 2018 report Overlooked and Undermined. The report showed how jade extraction had led to extensive human suffering and environmental degradation in Myanmar’s conflict-torn Kachin state, and that the use of heavy mining equipment manufactured by companies such as Caterpillar, Komatsu and Volvo Construction Equipment, had enabled extraction to take place at an unprecedented speed.

“The companies could not be considered accountable for the complex situation in Kachin but in our dialogue with the three mining machinery companies, none of them could demonstrate that they map or seek to address the human rights risks specific to their sales in Myanmar, nor had they sought to identify the community impacts of the equipment’s use in the country,” said Swedwatch director Alice Blondel.

“This is contrary to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights which states that companies should carry out human rights due diligence on adverse human rights impacts that may be directly linked to their products through their business relationships.”

Imports of heavy mining machinery in Myanmar have increased significantly in the past 20 years. Products are brought into the country via distributors and dealerships or are smuggled from China. The equipment is used by mining companies, many of which reportedly have close links to the Myanmar military and generals from the old military junta.