OECD Gets Many Complaints From Civil Service Organizations About Telenor Moving Out Of Myanmar

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) was recently contacted by hundreds of Myanmar civil society organizations complaining about Norwegian telecoms giant Telenor’s “irresponsible disengagement” from Myanmar.
On behalf of 474 Myanmar groups, the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) filed a complaint with the Dutch government. According to them, Telenor’s sale of Myanmar operations to the Lebanese M1 Group violates OECD standards outlining the requirements for a responsible exit from Myanmar.
Only about half of the $105 million upfront payment was announced on July 8, representing a tiny fraction of the $782 million the company used to be valued at. The move has been condemned by activists, rights groups, and Telenor customers who feel they will be subjected to increased surveillance by Myanmar’s brutal junta in partnership with the new operator, M1.
“Telenor failed to conduct appropriate risk-based due diligence and has failed to seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts,” according to the OECD complaint.
In addition, Telenor failed to engage meaningfully with relevant stakeholders and was not transparent regarding the details of the sale, according to the complainants.
As a result of a political deadlock, Najib Mikati was nominated on Monday to be Lebanon’s next prime minister. Mikati is described by The Guardian as “the country’s richest man”; he has served twice as prime minister, and he remains a controversial figure due to his extreme wealth, charges of corruption, and investments in conflict-torn nations telecoms infrastructure.
The OECD complaint refers to M1 Group, a Mikati family business, as an unsuitable partner for Telenor’s handover based on both the OECD’s business and human rights guidelines and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
Myanmar civil society organizations say the Mikatis have a history of doing business with authoritarian governments, including Syria, Sudan, and Yemen, as well as allegations of corruption and terrorist financing.
Joseph Wilde-Ramsing, a senior researcher with SOMO, described Telenor’s “irresponsible disengagement” from Myanmar as “disappointing,” given the standards that Norwegian businesses are believed to adhere to.
When companies like Telenor enter risky contexts like Myanmar, they should consider more than just profits and be prepared with a responsible exit strategy. “Telenor’s lack of due diligence and preparation gives it no license to leave the Myanmar people in the lurch,” he is quoted as saying.
Ko Ye, an activist who took part in the OECD complaint, said he did not trust M1 Group to fulfill its human rights responsibilities or deal with the firm with integrity and asked the OECD’s Norwegian focal point to intervene.
“The sale to M1 Group must be halted before it leads to further killings and torture,” he said.
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, some 934 people have been killed by the Myanmar military since the February 1 coup.
Recently, a Telenor representative confirmed to Myanmar Now that the sale of its Myanmar infrastructure to M1 Group would include call data records of its 18 million subscribers. This identifying information could be dangerous in the hands of the junta, with which M1 is expected to work closely.
Telenor continues to face OECD complaints about its commitment to due diligence despite its reputation as a responsible business.
During military operations against Rohingyas in Alethankyaw, Maungdaw Township in August 2017, Myanmar soldiers used a telecommunications tower owned by Irrawaddy Green Towers and leased to Telenor as a sniper post. Troops allegedly killed Rohingya villagers fleeing the tower and buried many of their bodies at its base.
Telenor has been referred to the OECD by the Committee Seeking Justice for Alethankyaw in December 2019 regarding the matter. OECD’s Norwegian focal point has been investigating Telenor since last year to determine whether the company violated due diligence regulations in establishing a tower in the area.
The UN Fact-Finding Mission also identified Telenor’s Myanmar buyer, M1 Group, as a shareholder of Irrawaddy Green Towers. Mytel, a telecommunications provider owned in part by the military, also leases towers from Irrawaddy Green Towers.

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