Investors mobilise for action against Myanmar human rights abuses

myanmar

A group of asset managers are calling on companies with business links to Myanmar to take action against ongoing human rights violations in the country.

So far, 77 asset managers with a collective USD4 trillion in assets have signed on to an investor statement which outlines steps for companies with operations linked to Myanmar.

Myanmar’s military is believed to have killed more than 850 people and detained nearly 5,000 in a series of crackdowns since 1 February, when it seized power in a coup d’état. Meanwhile, a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the minority Rohingya community has forced over 700,000 Rohingyas to flee the country.

The investor group has published an Investor Statement on Human Rights and Business Activities in Myanmar, which calls for companies across all sectors with links to Myanmar, to immediately map their business activities, relationships, and investments in order to assess any human rights risks in their value chain.

The initiative is led by Storebrand Asset Management, in collaboration with the Investor Alliance for Human Rights, Domini Impact Investments, and the Heartland Initiative. Signatories include BMO Global Asset Management, Federated Hermes, Nordea Asset Management, and Robeco. 

“As long-term investors and their representatives committed to addressing human rights risks in our portfolios, and specifically in the case of conflict-affected Myanmar, we expect companies to uphold their corporate responsibility to respect human rights by undertaking enhanced due diligence to address and prevent human rights harms and in so doing, mitigate risks associated with such violations,” reads the statement.

The investors are urging companies to examine “any and all business relationships, activities and communications” involving the Myanmar military, including any that may provide support to the military’s activities.

After potential and actual human rights impacts have been identified, companies should take steps to mitigate and prevent them.

"In the last months Storebrand has been conducting due diligence on companies with operations in Myanmar to try to establish which have links to the military junta and potential human rights violations. Now, through a global mobilisation of investors and capital, we are calling on all companies with links to Myanmar to take immediate action to identify and mitigate any risk of contributing to human rights harms," says Kamil Zabielski, head of Sustainable investment at Storebrand Asset Management. 

The purpose of the initiative is to raise awareness of the human rights situation in Myanmar and augment due diligence through collaboration. 

"Sharing of resources and collaboration will make it easier for investors to engage companies and exercise more leverage. We see this initiative as an opportunity for the private sector to show leadership by assisting Myanmar’s transition to peace, justice, and democracy," Zabielski adds. 

Storebrand Asset Management is in the process of engaging with companies that have links to Myanmar, and is continually screening its portfolio companies as new data becomes available.

“We do not rule out that exclusions may be the outcome,” says Zabielski.

Prior to the military coup, Storebrand had already excluded companies including Dongfeng Motor Group, after it sold military trucks to the Junta in 2010. In 2019, Avichina was also black-listed for selling aircraft used to attack and kill civilians.  

“As part of our due diligence, we also screened our sovereign bonds. Although we did not own any sovereign bonds in Myanmar, we placed Myanmar on our exclusion list for sovereign bonds on account of the human rights situation,” says Zabielski.

This follows Storebrand’s increasing its focus on conflict areas including occupied Palestinian territories, occupied Western Sahara over the past year. 

Hannah Shoesmith, associate director of Engagement for EOS at Federated Hermes, says that EOS at Federated Hermes is engaging with companies on potential connections to the military junta in Myanmar.

She comments: “We support this investor statement outlining companies’ responsibilities for transparency and accountability and encourage an ongoing and constructive dialogue with all stakeholders."

Corey Klemmer, director of Corporate Engagement at Domini Impact Investments, says: “The protection of human rights, especially in high-risk areas such as Myanmar, is critical for companies and their investors - to mitigate significant operational, legal, and reputational risks to the firm, and to support the societies on which they rely for labour, consumers, and institutional support."