Cautious optimism in Myanmar
Myanmar is finally reemerging in the global economy. In recent years, there have been significant political developments which have opened up opportunities for progress for in business and on human rights.
I’ve just returned from a three-day deep-dive into Myanmar. Together with officials from Myanmar and other governments, human rights NGOs, civil society as well as local and international business representatives, I participated in the Wilton Park conference, entitled Burma/Myanmar – Business and Human Rights: Setting Standards for Responsible Business. There we gained a deeper understanding for some of the social, economic and political challenges facing the country, including corruption, ethnic violence and cultural and economic reform.
Myanmar’s modern history has been a difficult one. After independence in 1948, the country suffered from nearly five decades of civil war, ethnic divisions and economic sanctions. Ericsson left Myanmar in 1998 due to human rights concerns, but with the recent move toward democracy, the suspension of sanctions, and progress on human rights, we decided to reestablish an office there on June 1, 2012.
You can read more about the developments in Myanmar in the recent Institute for Human Rights and Business report Responsible Investment in Myanmar: The Human Rights Dimension.
With mobile penetration at only about 5 percent, the market potential in Myanmar is great. However, the challenge, which was also the theme of the Wilton Park conference, is how to apply the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights in an environment of rapid and significant changes while also managing expectations.
Our approach is clear and covers all aspects of our operations, the impact of our business, and our own corporate behavior. It can be summarized in three basic points:
1. Demonstrate the macroeconomic impact that telecoms can bring to Myanmar.
2. Conduct business responsibly by applying the UN Principles, our own global standards and codes of conduct.
3. Analyze the micro impact of telecom in areas such as education, health, agriculture, and business development.
Next week I will participate in a CSR seminar in Yangon, as part of the Swedish trade delegation to Myanmar. We will also be releasing our first report on the macroeconomic potential of mobile communications in Myanmar and I look forward to continuing a dialogue with various stakeholders.
The reforms taking place in Myanmar are exciting and encouraging, but there is still a long way to go. The feeling I get from everyone at Wilton Park is cautiously optimistic, however.