Global Beer Giant Kirin Pays Myanmar Military Amid Ethnic Cleansing Of Rohingya
Amnesty International has called for an urgent investigation by Japanese authorities into payments that a subsidiary of the multinational brewing giant Kirin made to Myanmar’s military and authorities at the height of an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya population in the fall of 2017.
Kirin Brewery Company is one of the largest beer producers in the world. The company holds a majority stake in Myanmar Brewery Limited as well as Asia Pacific Breweries and owns Kirin Europe, Kirin Brewery of America, Philippine-based San Miguel Brewery and other subsidiaries.
Our new research shows that @Kirin_Company’s subsidiary made donations at the height of violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State without accounting for where the money went. Ask Kirin to show proof of where these donations ended up → https://t.co/00CxioCKo2 pic.twitter.com/pHzw69jRNn
— AmnestyInternational (@amnesty) June 14, 2018
Admitting to the payments and lying about their purpose
In correspondence with Amnesty International Kirin Holdings Company, Inc. admitted that its subsidiary Myanmar Brewery made three donations totalling USD$30,000 to the authorities between September 1 and October 3, 2017.
Kirin claimed that all three donations – two financial contributions as well as an in-kind donation of rice and cooking oil – were made to the Rakhine State government, in response to a request for humanitarian relief for victims of the violence. But Kirin’s claim the donations were not made to the military are contradicted by open source evidence, including statements posted online by Myanmar’s Commander-in-Chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.
Amnesty International reveals that Kirin’s first donation was made by Myanmar Brewery staff to the Commander-in Chief of Myanmar’s armed forces, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing at a televised ceremony in the capital Nay Pyi Taw on September 1, 2017, according to the Senior General’s own Facebook page.
Amnesty International’s Digital Verification Corps analysed and verified videos posted to the Senior General’s Facebook account.
It beggars belief that any international investor would make donations to Myanmar’s military at a time when those very forces were carrying out ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya population in northern Rakhine State,” said Seema Joshi, head of Business and Human Rights at Amnesty International.
Myanmar’s Commander-in-Chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing posted more remarks on Facebook on September 11 about a separate ceremony, where the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL, the minority owner of Kirin’s Myanmar Breweries) and 18 of its joint venture businesses donated a further USD$19,200 to the military.
According to Myanmar’s Commander-in-Chief himself, these donations were “for security troops and departmental personnel discharging State defence and security duties at risk of sacrifice in Rakhine State and local people who fled from native places due to terror attacks of ARSA … and to carry out fencing at the border region.”
Profit over human rights
Kirin is closely collaborating with Myanmar military to generate profits.
In 2015 Kirin, formerly known as Japan Brewery, purchased a 55% stake in Myanmar Brewery, the Myanmar’s largest beer producer, for USD$560 million. A powerful conglomerate owned by serving and former members of the military, Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL, also known as Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited), owns the remainder.
In 2017, Kirin invested a further USD$4.3 million for a 51% stake in Mandalay Brewery, in a separate joint venture with UMEHL. Through these investments, Kirin says it controls 80% of Myanmar’s growing beer market.
Kirin’s donations were made at a time when Myanmar’s military conducted vicious campaigns of killings, rape and other sexual violence, torture, village burning, forced starvation tactics, and other violations which constitute crimes against humanity under international law. At the time, global attention to these atrocities against Rohingya women, men and children was at its peak.
By donating to the military and/or the Rakhine State authorities, Myanmar Brewery has risked worsening the human rights situation for Rohingya and other ethnicities who face longstanding discrimination.
It is extremely worrying that the company could not account for where these funds ended up,” said Seema Joshi.
Amnesty International reports that Kirin’s responsibility to respect human rights has been outlined by the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Under this internationally recognized standard, companies like Kirin have a responsibility to respect all human rights wherever they operate.
In order to fulfil this responsibility, companies must ensure that their business activities do not cause or contribute to human rights abuses. Companies should identify and assess their potential or actual human rights impacts by undertaking a risk-based due diligence analysis.
Amnesty International reports that Kirin has not undertaken such steps, and as a result has risked contributing to human rights abuses in Myanmar, both through its donations to the authorities, as well as appearing to endorse the military’s actions in Rakhine State.
Big Alcohol’s unethical dealings
Kirin is not the only major alcohol producer and member of the “International Alliance for ‘Responsible’ Drinking” (IARD) that has been exposed for its dealings with military forces.
Heineken in war-torn Congo has for decades employed the same tactics. For example during the war, Heineken paid taxes to rebels in the Kivu region of Congo. An investigation showed that Heineken has been structurally linked to armed rebels. And other details show that Heineken is linked to Human Rights abuses, violence and armed conflict in Congo, while increasing its profitability in the country.