Heineken, Carlsberg, and ThaiBev pay tens of millions of dollars to Myanmar junta
An analysis of available tax filings from October to December 2021 show that Heineken, Carlsberg and ThaiBev subsidiaries paid 49.9 billion kyat in Specific Goods Tax (SGT) alone to the military junta, equivalent to US$27.6 million based on average exchange rates from the Central Bank of Myanmar, which is illegally under junta control, according the the Justice For Myanmar press release.
The Specific Goods Tax (SGT) is a tax on the production and import of alcohol and other products that is applied to beer at a rate of 60% and a sliding scale for spirits, depending on the price level.
ThaiBev, Heineken and Carlsberg also pay commercial tax and income tax to the military junta in Myanmar, which totalled 12.6 billion kyat in the period, equivalent to US$7 million.
Spread across a year, the alcohol industry giants ThaiBev, Heineken and Carlsberg in Myanmar could be paying as much as 250 billion kyat or US$155 million in taxes to the junta, bankrolling its international crimes.
Justice For Myanmar says that Big Alcohol payments aided the military junta as it wages a campaign of terror against the people of Myanmar, increasingly relying on its air force to carry out indiscriminate attacks.
The insistence of Big Alcohol to do business with the military junta in order to drive profits has made the beer giants “complicit in [the junta’s] international crimes and undermining [of] democracy.”
Heineken, Carlsberg and ThaiBev are paying the equivalent of tens of millions of dollars in taxes annually to the Myanmar military junta, which is a terrorist organisation that has been committing war crimes and crimes against humanity against the people of Myanmar with total impunity,” said Justice For Myanmar spokesperson Yadanar Maung, as per press release.
The illegal junta desperately needs revenue to sustain its campaign of murder and destruction, and these taxes from drink giants help fund the bombs, bullets and jet fuel the junta needs to attack the people.
Since there is a specific goods tax for beer and spirits, the junta gets a massive share of the revenues of Heineken, Carlsberg and ThaiBev in Myanmar.Yadanar Maung, spokesperson, Justice For Myanmar
Justice For Myanmar also calls out Big Alcohol’s “historic human rights due diligence failures in Myanmar” over the alcohol industry’s partnering with the Thein Tun family, who have deep links to the Myanmar military.
Human rights abuses of the military junta
On April 11, the junta launched air strikes against people gathered at an event in Pazigyi village, Sagaing, killing at least 168 people, weeks after the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution that called on the Myanmar military to immediately cease all air strikes. Since its coup attempt, the military has launched indiscriminate air strikes across Myanmar. An October 2022 air strike against a concert in Kachin State killed over 80 people.
Such war crimes and human rights atrocities perpetrated by the military junta after its coup in 2021 caused many multinational companies to exit Myanmar, write Diarmid O’Sullivan and Nick Mathiason, in Finance Uncovered.
These alcohol industry payments help the junta buy arms, fuel and equipment, and pay soldiers, supporting ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Big Beer’s entanglements with military junta exposed
Thein Tun’s Myanma Golden Star Group, which he controlled with his son Thant Zin Tun until his death in 2022, is the Myanmar partner of Carlsberg, according to Justice for Myanmar. Carlsberg in Myanmar additionally produces Tuborg, Yoma and Black Eagle beer. Thant Zin Tun’s son, Daniel Nay Min Tun, has been a director of Myanmar Carlsberg since July 2018 and became CEO of Myanma Golden Star Group in July 2018, according to his LinkedIn profile, as per Justice For Myanmar reporting.
Thein Tun’s daughter, Mar Mar Tun and son-in-law, Aung Moe Kyaw, are the local partners of Heineken and Thai Beverage (ThaiBev). Heineken in Myanmar also produces Tiger, ABC Extra Stout, Bawdar and Regal Seven beer, while the ThaiBev controlled Grand Royal Group produces Grand Royal whiskies, Royal Special gin and vodka, and bottles MacArthur’s, a blend of whiskies imported into Myanmar from Scotland.
Paying taxes to people who commit war crimes is directly participating in those crimes and therefore the large foreign companies have to decide if they will continue to participate in the crimes of the military council or stop paying taxes,” Justice for Myanmar spokesperson Yadanar Maung told RFA’s Burmese Service.Yadanar Maung, spokesperson, Justice For Myanmar
Big Alcohol payments to military junta
The biggest taxpayer in the group is Grand Royal Group, which is controlled by ThaiBev, a corporation listed on the Singapore stock exchange. ThaiBev’s Myanmar subsidiary paid 25.9 billion kyat in Specific Goods Tax alone to the junta in the fourth quarter of 2021, equivalent to over US$14 million. In the same period, Heineken in Myanmar paid the junta 16.8 billion kyat (US$9.3 million) in SGT and Carlsberg’s subsidiary in Myanmar paid the junta 7.1 billion kyat (US$3.9 million) in SGT.
ThaiBev, Heineken and Carlsberg companies also pay commercial tax and income tax to the junta, which totalled 12.6 billion kyat in the period, equivalent to US$7 million.
Spread across a year, ThaiBev, Heineken and Carlsberg companies in Myanmar could be paying as much as 250 billion kyat or US$155 million in taxes to the junta.
According to Justice For Myanmar, ThaiBev is responsible for further tax payments to the junta through its subsidiary Fraser & Neave, which produces Chang Beer through Emerald Brewery Myanmar Limited, a joint venture established with Than Lwin Aye Yar Industrial Production & Construction Company of the crony Shwe Than Lwin group.
Big Alcohol in breach of human rights responsibilities
Since the military took full control over Myanmar through a coup d’état, several multinational companies have ceased operating in the country or sold off stakes in joint ventures.
For example, Japanese alcohol giant Kirin announced in early 2022 that it was selling its stake in Myanmar Brewery – a joint venture that had ties to the government – at a loss of capital and assets. Movendi International had helped reveal the ties between Kirin and the military junta and campaigned for the exit of the beer giant.
At first, in February 2021, following the military coup, beer giant Kirin had announced it would terminate their two joint ventures in the country with Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL). MEHL is a military owned conglomerate and serves as a welfare fund for the military junta in Myanmar, meaning the Big Alcohol giant helps the military regime to enrich themselves.
However, in December 2021, Kirin was still involved – revealing Big Alcohol’s playbook of saying something in public that they do not follow-up on with action.
But Heineken, Carlsberg, and ThaiBev maintained their ties with the military junta in pursuit of profits.
According to Justice For Myanmar, taxes are being paid according to rates set by the State Administration Council (SAC), which is sanctioned by the US, UK, and EU. SAC has unlawfully issued yearly tax laws, and illegally controls the Internal Revenue Department, which collects tax payments. SAC’s 2023 tax law increases SGT for liquor.
Tax payments to the junta go against Pillar Three of the investment guidance of the National Unity Government: “Withhold payment of all taxes and other fiscal obligations to military-controlled authorities and instead discharge such payments to an escrow account”.
Justice For Myanmar writes that by financing the junta, major international beverage corporations are breaching their responsibilities under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises to identify, mitigate and remedy negative human rights impacts, and to responsibly disengage if they cannot end their links to severe human rights violations. By failing to act, the companies risk deepening complicity in the junta’s atrocity crimes, which are supported by their large tax payments.
How Heineken and Carlsberg ties with Myanmar military junta got exposed
A leak of Myanmar Internal Revenue Department filings, revealed that two European beer giants – Denmark’s Carlsberg and the Netherland’s Heineken – maintained profitable ties with the military junta while other multinational corporations left the country.
They discovered that between October and December 2021 – nine months after the coup – Heineken made revenues of MMK 28 billion (US$15.6 million) from selling “various types of beer”.
Beer is subject to a specific goods tax in Myanmar at a rate of 60%. Heineken Myanmar paid MMK 16.8 billion (US$9.35 million) in this tax, the filings showed.
If sales of beer were at the same level throughout 2021, this would mean that Heineken had sold more than US$60 million worth of beer and paid more than US$37 million in this specific goods tax alone. This would not include any payments of sales tax or corporate income tax.
Under Myanmar’s last dictatorship, Heineken was targeted in a boycott campaign for doing business with the military. It pulled out in 1996.
Heineken returned to Myanmar in 2015, after a 20-year absence. At that time, Myanmar was seen by brewers as a growth market where beer consumption was lower than in other Asian countries.
The leaks also showed Carlsberg Myanmar, whose parent company is based in Denmark, paid MMK 3.18 billion (US$1.7 million) in commercial tax in the year to September 2021, not including corporate income tax.
The documents do not show how much profit the company made that year.
As the junta waged war on its own people, tax filings for the three months to December 2021 showed that Carlsberg Myanmar made total sales worth MMK 11.8 billion ($6.7m). These sales triggered a specific good tax payment of MMK 7.13 billion ($4m).
Carlsberg started brewing beer in Myanmar in 2015 via a joint venture with the local Myanma Golden Star Breweries.
The beer giant had claimed it left Myanmar in 1996, but revelations proved Carlsberg lied and actually did invest in the country in 1996 after it publicly claimed it was leaving the market.
Carlsberg it used a proxy company, Brewinvest, to enter a joint venture with two companies that were closely linked with the military junta – Myanmar Economic Corporation and Myanma Golden Star – to create Dagon Brewery.
International front page coverage
Finance Uncovered reports they briefed journalists in Denmark and the Netherlands about the revelations. This work led to front page coverage and considerable media attention in both countries.
In Denmark, the story made the front page of Politiken, the leading Danish newspaper.
Investigative journalist and author, Olivier Van Beeman also wrote a story for Follow the Money in the Netherlands.
“We call on Heineken, Carlsberg, ThaiBev and LOTTE to fulfil their international obligations under the OECD Guidelines and UN Guiding Principles, and end their substantial payments to the military junta, which is a terrorist organisation.”
Consequences and further revelations: A track record of putting profits before human rights
Heineken and Carlsberg both have a track record in Myanmar of putting profits before human rights. They have already been pursuing investment under the previous military junta. In 1996, the two beer giants exited brewery projects under pressure from activists and a global boycott. However, Carlsberg continued to pursue business with the then junta, entering an apparent secret partnership with military conglomerate Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) and Myanma Golden Star to establish Dagon Beverages.
The revelations and media coverage forced Carlsberg to engage in damage control. The Danish beer giant launched a face-saving “internal probe”. In September 2023 it found that the brewer lied about investment in Myanmar.
The probe proves Carlsberg did invest in Myanmar in 1996 although it had publicly said it was leaving the country to join international boycotts of the military junta.
Leaked documents released by Distributed Denial of Secrets reveal that Carlsberg may have used a proxy company, Brewinvest (Bermuda) Ltd, to enter into a joint venture agreement with MEC and Myanma Golden Star in 1997. Brewinvest (Bermuda), which appears to have been owned by the Carlsberg associated company Malaysian Mosaics Berhad at the time of the joint venture agreement, sold its shares to MEC in 2005 for US$4 million, and had done business in possible breach of EU sanctions. The leaked share transfer document lists Derek Ian Cook as transferor for Brewinvest, who at the time was director of Carlsberg in Thailand. The witness is Jesper Bjorn Madsen, Carlsberg Asia’s Senior Vice President.
MEC’s website lists the former Dagon Beverages joint venture with Brewinvest (Bermuda) and discloses “installation” by Danbrew, which was then a fully owned brewery-related services subsidiary of Carlsberg.
Under the partnership with Carlsberg, Dagon Beverages formerly produced SKOL beer, a brand that Carlsberg still holds rights to.
Myanma Golden Star sold its Dagon Beverages shares to MEC in 2009, but appears to have continued to partner with MEC in Dagon Dairy, a business that produces condensed milk.
Southeast Asia’s alcohol giant ThaiBev is unaffected by criticism of their link to human rights atrocities. In July 2023, ThaiBev announced a deal to set up a US$15 million brewery in Myanmar together with a local conglomerate Win Brothers, which is believed to be a crony company.
In 2019, ThaiBev, through its unit F&N, invested US$70 million to set up Emerald Brewery in Yangon to produce Chang beer with its local partner Than Lwin Aye Yar Industrial Production and Construction Company.
What can be done: boycott, exit, divest, and more
Democracy activists are calling for a boycott of Heineken, Carlsberg, and ThaiBev products, reports Radio Free Asia (RFA). People are saying that any beer brand that supports the junta must be boycotted.
Activists are also calling on Big Alcohol to leave the country.
Every company that cooperates with the junta should pull out from Myanmar as soon as possible as they must be held responsible and accountable, Me Htet Nay of the Nyan Lynn Thit Analytica political research and rights group told RFA.
The junta’s sources of income should be cut off as it spends most of the tax money on the military budget that oppresses the people of Myanmar.
Pro-democracy activists are already boycotting products produced by military enterprises, including Andaman Gold beer, Myanmar beer, Mandalay beer, Dagon brand alcohol and beer, and Ruby and Premium Gold cigarettes.
RFA reports that sales of Myanmar Beer have halved from $11 million in revenue before the coup to just over $5 million within a year of the coup, according to the company’s records, due to the boycott.
Justice For Myanmar has called on ThaiBev, Heineken, and Carlsberg to follow the guidance of the National Unity Government and their international human rights responsibilities, and end payments to the military junta.
If the asset managers do not do so, the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct indicates that they risk deepening their relationship to and responsibility for the severe human rights violations the Myanmar junta is committing with revenue from the sale of [alcoholic] drinks.”Justice For Myanmar
Justice For Myanmar also shines a light on the role and responsibilities of investors that hold shares in Big Alcohol corporations.
Either they hold those companies accountable for helping fun human rights atrocities or they divested from the alcohol giants companies.
Justice For Myanmar reports that Heineken’s biggest shareholders include FEMSA, GQG Partners, Morgan Stanley, The Vanguard Group and Norway’s Oil Fund.
Justice For Myanmar reports that Carlsberg’s biggest shareholders include Capital Research & Management, Thomburg Investment Management, Norway’s Oil Fund, The Vanguard Group and DWS investment.
ThaiBev’s biggest shareholders include the Sirivadhanabhakdi family, FIL Investment Management, Vontobel Asset Management, Banque de Luxembourg Investments and Norway’s Oil Fund.
Justice For Myanmar report: “HEINEKEN, CARLSBERG AND THAIBEV PAY TENS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN TAX TO MYANMAR JUNTA”
Finance Uncovered: “How we helped reveal Heineken and Carlsberg tax payments to Myanmar military junta“
Brauwelt International: “Carlsberg probe finds the brewer lied about investment in Myanmar“
Just Drinks: “Carlsberg probes claims of ties to Myanmar junta“