Japanese beer giant Kirin said it is pulling out of a partnership in Myanmar which it runs with a conglomerate linked to the country’s military.
The company has a joint venture with Myanmar Economic Holdings, which is overseen by commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, on Monday, he led a military coup which seized control of the government. In a statement on Friday, Kirin said it was “deeply concerned by the recent actions of the military in Myanmar”. Kirin is one of the world’s biggest brewing companies, owning brands like Kirin and Tooheys, as well as a major stake in San Miguel and a number of craft beers brewed in the UK and US.
The Japanese drinks conglomerate also owns just over half of both Myanmar Brewery and Mandalay Brewery, in partnership with Myanmar Economic Holdings (MEH). “We decided to invest in Myanmar in 2015, believing that, through our business, we could contribute positively to the people and the economy of the country as it entered an important period of democratisation,” Kirin said in a statement. “Given the current circumstances, 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.” A United Nations (UN) investigation uncovered MEH’s links to its military and Min Aung Hlaing. MEH has a significant portfolio across many industries including banking, tourism, real estate, transportation, gems and metals.
In 2018 a UN mission investigating atrocities against the Rohingya people in Myanmar said that doing business with MEH posed “a high risk of contributing” to human rights violations. Foreign companies that invested in Myanmar have been under pressure from human rights groups for doing business in the country. A number of foreign oil and gas companies have operations in Myanmar, along with carmakers and banks. Activists had called for Kirin in particular to end its joint venture in Myanmar even before Monday’s coup after investigations revealed the partnership profited the country’s military. Human rights group Justice for Myanmar had argued Kirin’s joint venture helps “finance the Myanmar military’s ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity”.
On Friday, Justice For Myanmar spokesman Yadanar Maung said: “Kirin’s bold and timely move to cut ties sends a strong message to the Myanmar military that their illegitimate and brutal coup and continued genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity will not be tolerated.” “We appreciate that Kirin has finally listened to the voices of the Myanmar people and made the right decision by cutting ties. We now call on Kirin to encourage other companies to follow suit,” Justice For Myanmar added. The human rights group is calling on the international community to impose targeted sanctions on Myanmar’s military businesses. After Monday’s coup, US President Joe Biden threatened to reinstate sanctions on Myanmar. Along with the US, the United Nations, the UK and the EU have also condemned the military takeover.