Myanmar rights groups complain to OECD over Telenor sale

Myanmar-based rights groups have filed a complaint with the OECD against Telenor after the Norwegian state-owned telecommunications company sold its business in the Southeast Asian country of the conflict to a Lebanese investment firm. .

The groups said Telenor had “irresponsibly freed itself from its operations in Myanmar” and had not acted in accordance with OECD and UN rights and business principles when it sold its local business. to the M1 Group, which was founded by Lebanon’s newly appointed prime minister, for $ 105m this month. The transaction came amid widespread unrest in the country following a February military coup.

“Telenor has failed to conduct appropriate risk-based due diligence and has not sought to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts to its customers that could result from the sale of its operations in Myanmar. “, said the groups in a complaint to Norway’s national contact point. according to OECD guidelines for multinational companies. «Telenor [also] has failed to engage with relevant stakeholders in relation to the sale of Telenor Myanmar to the M1 Group. ”

The 474 civil society organizations that approved the complaint have remained anonymous because of what they have called “extreme rights abuses” since the arrival of Gen Min Aung Hlaing since the overthrow of Aung San Suu Kyi’s government. . The Research Center for Multinational Companies in Amsterdam, a non-profit group, submitted it on its own.

Of the telecommunications companies operating in Myanmar, Telenor was generally considered to be the most committed to transparency and human rights in the preparation of the coup and beyond. Telenor published joint requests to interrupt services or block access to content before being ordered by the stop-to-do regime.

While violence against protesters is growing and Telenor employees are threatened, the Norwegian group thought its position was no longer tenable. Sigve Brekke, chief executive, acknowledged that the situation in the country has become “increasingly challenging for Telenor for reasons of safety, regulation and compliance of the people” when he announced the sale this month.

Telenor posted the full value of $ 782 million of its investment in May.

Human rights groups, journalists, and others have expressed concerns that new business owners may be less vigilant in resisting censorship and protecting customer data.

“Telenor’s decision to leave is a great disappointment for those in Myanmar who are concerned about digital rights and responsible business practices,” said Vicky Bowman, director of the Myanmar Center for Responsible Affairs. “Before making the decision, he did not engage with his Myanmar users to find out their views.”

In Myanmar, junta forces have arrested nearly 7,000 people and killed more than 900 since the coup, according to the Association for the Assistance of Political Prisoners, a leading human rights group.

M1, a sprawling conglomerate founded by billionaire Najib Mikati and his brother Taha, has “a business register in countries operating under authoritarian regimes,” according to rights groups that have filed the complaint with the OECD. M1 has operated mobile networks in Yemen, Syria, Liberia and Sudan.

Mikati was the Prime Minister of Lebanon in 2005 and also from 2011-14. He is set to occupy Lebanon’s first seat once again after members of parliament voted Monday to nominate him as prime minister-designate.

Joe Issa-el-Khoury, M1’s adviser, said concerns for Lebanese society were “racist and discriminatory” and that he had never “endangered” them.[d] its ethics when it comes to human rights issues. ”Asked how M1 would handle any question of Myanmar’s arrival, Issa-el-Khoury said:“ We are not anxious about anticipation and look forward to seeing what the authorities may need it. ”

“The people of Myanmar would have left two options” after Telenor’s withdrawal, he added. “Either there is a group that comes from the Middle East that is prepared to take risks… Or it is the government that has to take over.”

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