I recently published an op-ed in The Christian Science Monitor cautioning companies seeking to make investments in Burma (Myanmar) to make sure that the inflow of new investments does not end up harming the country’s long-suffering citizens.
The op-ed recommends that such companies undertake human rights due diligence, consistent with United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, “to ensure that their activities do not cause or contribute to harm, regardless of the conduct of the state.” When the European Union suspended sanctions on Burma in April, it advised European companies to following the Guiding Principles.
In the op-ed, I note that "conducting this due diligence on human rights poses a special challenge for companies because Myanmar’s government and local business have been closely intertwined." Companies should exercise particular caution "about whom they obtain access to land from, how they gain that access, and how they conduct consultations with affected communities."
Finally, I urge companies to
take concrete steps to see to it that their partners, local or regional, also adhere to international standards. They must also ensure that these partners are not implicated in any past conduct that may expose investors to complicity risks. Foreign companies need to take effective steps to conduct activities without discrimination, as well, particularly while operating in regions divided by ethnic conflict.
The U.N. Guiding Principles were the product of a six-year mandate that I led, which included extensive consultations with governments, businesses and civil society. The Principles were endorsed unanimously by the U.N. Human Rights Council and have also been incorporated by other leading global standard setting bodies. Their intent is to provide operational guidance to companies, and governments on how to fulfill their human rights responsibilities.
Human rights due diligence should be a core component of any company’s efforts to manage operations in Burma, and other challenging environments, in a manner that fulfills their responsibility to respect human rights.