An Amnesty International report claimed that Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL), a conglomerate owned by the Burmese military and which has a partnership with Japan beer giant Kirin, is linked to human rights crimes against Rohingya.
Kirin owns UK craft producers Yorkshire-based Magic Rock Brewing and London’s Fourpure Brewing Company via its ownership of Australasian food and beverage company Lion Little World Beverages.
Peter Frankental, Amnesty UK’s Business and Human Rights Programme Director, said: “Unsuspecting consumers of craft beers from Kirin’s subsidiaries in the UK will be horrified to realise that they may be in any way contributing funds to Myanmar’s military.”
MEHL’s activities include beer, mining and tobacco. Amnesty International said leaked official documents revealed that MEHL’s shareholders had received about £13.5 billion in dividends over 20 years. It said around £12 billion of this had been transferred to many military units directly responsible for crimes under international law and other human rights violations.
Mark Dummett, Head of Business, Security and Human Rights at Amnesty International, said: “These documents provide new evidence of how the Myanmar military benefits from MEHL’s vast business empire and make clear that the military and MEHL are inextricably linked. This is not a case of MEHL unwittingly financing human rights violations – its entire board is composed of high-level military figures.”
Amnesty said its research demonstrated that a direct link existed between MEHL’s business partners and human rights violations. Dummett called on businesses who currently partner with MEHL to end the relationships immediately.
British craft brewers reassure drinkers that UK profits remain in UK
A spokesperson for Lion Little World Beverages said it shared Amnesty’s concerns about human rights in Myanmar, and called on Kirin “to find a resolution to this difficult situation as quickly as possible”.
It stressed that as subsidiaries, Fourpure and Magic Rock had no stake in or control over Kirin’s operations in Myanmar.
“Any profits made by Lion Little World Beverages in the UK will be held in the UK and reinvested in our operations here,” the spokesperson said. “When UK drinkers buy a Fourpure or a Magic Rock beer, they can be assured that any profits will remain in the UK.”
Kirin is currently reviewing its Myanmar operations
Kirin said it had been engaging with Amnesty International since May 2020 and was deeply concerned by the contents of the Amnesty International report.
“Kirin takes its responsibilities in Myanmar very seriously and continues to welcome constructive dialogue on this matter with Amnesty International and other NGOs, human rights experts, and all of our valued stakeholders,” it said in a statement.
The company said it had signed a joint venture agreement with Myanma Economic Holdings Public Company Limited (MEHPCL) in 2015 on the condition that none of the proceeds from the ventures would be used for military purposes.
“We have always been of the belief that through involvement in the management of Myanmar Brewery Limited and Mandalay Brewery Limited, we can contribute to efforts to address the social and environmental challenges that Myanmar faces,” it continued. “The matters outlined in the Amnesty International report are at odds with our commitment to human rights and the people of Myanmar, and we have shared this concern with MEHPCL.
“We emphasise that it is wholly unacceptable to Kirin that any proceeds from our Myanmar joint-ventures could be used for any military purposes.”
Earlier this year, Kirin announced a review of strategic options for its operations in Myanmar to be conducted by Deloitte after a UN mission discovered that MEHL profits had helped to fund international war crimes and crimes against humanity, possibly including genocide: allegations denied by the military.
Kirin said any new evidence presented in the Amnesty International report “will be carefully considered and form part of this assessment, which we aim to conclude by the end of this year”.