More to follow suit and head for the door after energy giants withdraw from Myanmar due to human right abuses

  • Myanmar
  • Monday, 24 Jan 2022

FILE PHOTO: A Chevron gas station sign is seen in Del Mar, California, in this April 25, 2013 photo. - Reuters

PARIS/YANGON, Jan 24 (AFP): The announcements last week by TotalEnergies and Chevron have swelled the ranks of foreign firms that have quit Myanmar after the February military coup.

As the civilian death toll from the military crackdown has surpassed 1,500 people, activists have ratcheted up pressure on foreign firms.

Investors piled into the country after the military relaxed its iron grip in 2011, paving the way for democratic reforms and economic liberalisation in the country of more than 50 million people.

They poured money into telecommunications, infrastructure, manufacturing and construction projects.

Now they face either pulling up sticks like TotalEnergies and Chevron, suspending operations, or continuing with business as usual.

- Pulling up sticks -

The decisions by TotalEnergies and Chevron to leave were significant, as the more than $1 billion in fees and taxes they paid to operate the Yadana gas field in the Andaman were Myanmar's single largest source of foreign currency revenue, according to Human Rights Watch.

Last year, Norway's Telenor announced it would sell off its Myanmar subsidiary, which was one of the nation's largest mobile phone networks, although the deal has yet to be finalised.

This week, it sold its stake in a Burmese digital payments service.

British American Tobacco, which employed more than 100,000 people in Myanmar before the coup, pulled up sticks in October.

French renewable energy firm Voltalia has also left.

- Suspending operations -

Japanese carmaker Toyota, which was due to launch manufacturing at a Myanmar factory last year, put the project on hold.

Myanmar factories became suppliers of many popular clothing brands over the past decade, but groups such as Italy's Benetton stopped placing new orders after the coup.

French energy giant EDF has suspended its involvement in a $1.5-billion project to build a hydroelectric dam, Shweli-3, alongside consortium partners Marubeni of Japan and Ayeyar Hinthar of Myanmar.

- Staying or stuck -

Shortly after the military takeover, Japan's Suzuki suspended production at its two Myanmar factories but then quickly reopened the facilities, which assemble vehicles for the local market.

French hotel group Accor, which has nine hotels in Myanmar, said on Friday that it had "made the choice to stay in the country for now and maintain support for its 1,000 employees on site and for the communities near the group's hotels."

Accor "came to Myanmar with the hope of bringing positive change for the population. It is in that spirit that we are maintaining our presence," the group told AFP in a statement.

"Tourism is vital for Myanmar and remains one of the last links that connects the Burmese people to the world," the statement said.

Japanese brewer Kirin has been trying for months to end its business ties with the Myanmar military, with which it operates two breweries.

After talks hit a wall, it launched arbitration proceedings in Singapore in December.

Meanwhile, Denmark's Carlsberg, which employs around 450 people in the country, has said it has reduced output as consumption has declined, but has not announced any plans to leave. - AFP

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