Kirin beer company cuts brewery ties with Myanmar military over coup
Japanese drinks giant Kirin Holdings will abandon its partnership with a Myanmar brewery part-owned by military generals who overthrew the elected government this week and are under international sanctions for genocide.
The brewer, owner of brands such as XXXX, Tooheys, Kirin and Little Creatures, has been urged for years to cut ties with its Myanmar business operations, with human rights groups alleging its continued part-ownership of two military-linked breweries made it in effect complicit in war crimes committed by the military.
This week’s coup has caused the company to abandon operations in the country. In a statement, Kirin said it was “deeply concerned” by the actions of the military and would be “taking steps as a matter of urgency to put this termination into effect”.
“Given the current circumstances, we have no option but to terminate our current joint-venture partnership with Myanma Economic Holdings … as a matter of urgency,” Kirin said in a statement.
Kirin owns a controlling stake in both Myanmar Brewery and Mandalay Brewery in partnership with Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (MEHL), a company controlled by the country’s military and that a UN investigation has found is overseen by coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.
Min Aung Hlaing was the commander-in-chief of the Myanmar military when it waged a campaign – executed with “genocidal intent” according to UN investigators – against the ethnic minority Rohingya in Rakhine state, which included mass killings, including of children, gang rapes, arson and systemic torture. He has been individually sanctioned by both the US and UK.
On Monday, forces loyal to Min Aung Hlaing seized control of the government in Myanmar. He has unilaterally appointed himself leader of Myanmar for at least a year, to vociferous international condemnation.
Members of the elected government, including NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi, have been arrested and charged, after the military raised unsubstantiated allegations of electoral fraud.
In a statement, Kirin said: “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.
“Our aspiration was and remains to create a positive impact on Myanmar’s economy and society through our operations at Myanmar Brewery Limited and Mandalay Brewery Limited.
“Given the current circumstances, we have no option but to terminate our current joint-venture partnership with Myanma Economic Holdings Public Company Limited, which provides the service of welfare fund management for the military.”
Walking away from the breweries will be difficult for Kirin, as it will hand valuable assets to the military figures it has already been criticised for doing business with.
A spokesperson for advocacy group Justice for Myanmar, Yadanar Maung, said Kirin had “listened to the voices of the Myanmar people” and made the right decision.
“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.
“Kirin’s actions support the democratic struggle of the Myanmar people for democracy, peace, justice and accountability.”
Yadanar Maung said all companies that remained in business with the military regime should immediately sever links.
Business partnerships with multinationals provides not only much-needed foreign currency for the isolated Myanmar military – which is subject to global arms embargoes – but also, crucially, is a source of international legitimacy.
“The business interests of top generals is a motivation for the coup so business has a crucial role to play now by cutting ties,” said Yadanar Maung.
Amnesty International Australia campaigner Tim O’Connor welcomed Kirin’s decision.
“It’s only a shame it took a military coup d’etat for them to finally move on what was always a venture that delivered huge sums of money to Myanmar military and their leaders who are accused of the gravest human rights violations.
“The dividends that MEHL received through joint ventures with Kirin likely helped finance these atrocities.”
Teppei Kasai at Human Rights Watch said: “Japanese beverage giant Kirin’s announcement today that it will terminate its partnership with military-owned MEHL is a long-awaited but welcomed move.
“Other foreign companies with ties to the Tatmadaw [Myanmar’s military] should follow in Kirin’s footsteps in an urgent and transparent manner.”
A UN fact-finding mission report in 2018 said “any engagement in any form” with the Myanmar military was “indefensible”.