Following the recent military coup in Myanmar, beer giant Kirin announced it will terminate their two joint ventures in the country. Kirin currently holds majority stakes in Myanmar Brewery and Mandalay Brewery, which are co-owned by Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL). MEHL is a military owned conglomorate and serves as a welfare fund for the military.
Kirin acquired a 55% stake in Myanmar Brewery for $560 million in 2015. Kirin transferred a 4% stake in Myanmar Brewery to MEHL in 2017 when it acquired a 51% stake in Mandalay Brewery for $4.3 million. Kirin’s Myanmar sales account for about 5% of the Beer Giant’s global sales.
Profits over people: Kirin’s investment into genocide
Kirin’s investment in Myanmar in 2015 was a result of the Japanese government’s encouragement to invest in the country as the new government of Aung San Suu Kyi was elected through the first free election after nearly half a century. Economic sanctions were lifted with the new government, but the United States maintained sanctions against MEHL.
Later an Amnesty International investigation revealed the links between MEHL and Myanmar military units charged with egregious human rights abuses. Through its joint ventures, Kirin was legitimizing and funding the Myanmar military as it faced charges of genocide at the International Court of Justice.
Moreover, Kirin’s subsidiary in Myanmar made three donations to the Burmese military during the army’s offensive in 2017 that forced over 700,000 Rohingya civilians to flee to neighboring Bangladesh. United Nations investigators concluded that this operation included mass killings and gang rapes and was executed with “genocidal intent”.
In 2019, United Nations investigators warned global firms doing business with MEHL aided the army and were at “high risk” of contributing to human rights abuses.
Movendi International, Amnesty International, other civil society groups, activists and the global community campaigned against Big Alcohol doing business with the Myanmar military which was committing genocide against the Rohingya people.
Kirin terminates joint ventures with MEHL
Releasing a statement on February 5, 2021 on terminating the joint ventures with MEHL, Kirin stated the military’s actions were against their human rights policy.
We have no option but to terminate our current joint venture partnership with Myanmar Economic Holdings Public Company Limited… We will be taking steps as a matter of urgency to put this termination into effect,” said Kirin’s statement as per Nikkei Asia.Kirin Holdings
No information on MEHL’s response to the termination notice has been received yet.
However, Kirin is not planning to withdraw investment completely from Myanmar. According to a representative the company intends to look for a private, non-military-affiliated venture partner to replace MEHL. It is unclear whether MEHL will accept the termination of the joint ventures and whether a new partner will be found.
Finally, Kirin terminates its investment into the military forces of Myanmar. Public scrutiny and pressure mobilized by the work of Amnesty International, the International Campaign for the Rohingya, the members of Movendi International and many other civil society partners has made a big difference,” says Kristina Sperkova, International President, Movendi International.
The case shows how ruthless Big Alcohol is in putting its own profits over people and Human Rights. It beggars belief for how many years Kirin continued to pump money into a military regime committing genocide.
But the case also shows public pressure by people and communities can succeed in putting pressure on multinational corporations. I thank Amnesty International for their investigative work and the International Campaign for the Rohingya, as well as our members for their efforts.
Nevertheless, Kirin’s support for the Myanmar military, including during ethnic cleansing campaigns, will forever be part of Big Alcohol’s appalling track record.”Kristina Sperkova, International President, Movendi International
Big Alcohol’s track record of gross human rights abuses
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.
Politically, Kirin is represented by the Big Alcohol front group “International Alliance for Responsible Drinking (IARD)” where also other alcohol giants with horrific human rights records are involved.
Kirin is not the only alcohol industry giant where human rights abuses are part of the business strategy.
The investigative journalist Olivier van Beemen showed in a compelling book how Heineken, the second largest beer producer in the world, played an important and active part in the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.
In war-torn Congo, Heineken had for decades employed similar tactics, such as paying taxes to rebels in the Kivu region. 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.