New Rohingya rights campaign grabs Burma by its business interests

Unilever CEO Paul Polman in 2011. Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Sikarin Thanachaiary
Unilever CEO Paul Polman in 2011. Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Sikarin Thanachaiary

Nothing yet has seemed to convince Myanmar’s leaders to end the military’s campaign of rape, killing and destruction against Rohingya civilians in Rakhine State. Documentation of abuses has been thrown right back into the faces of major human rights and media organizations by the Myanmar government, including by ministries headed by Aung San Suu Kyi.

To reverse the tragic tide in favor of the Rohingya people, a new campaign called #AllRohingyaNow is taking a new approach: pressuring major companies investing in Myanmar to to expand their commitment to social responsibility by taking steps to end the repression and atrocities in Myanmar.

“We have lobbied governments and organizations to do what they can, but nothing so far has had any real affect; our governments are constrained by business interests,” says Jamila Hanan, who has been an activist involved in the Rohingya issue since 2012 and is spearheading the new campaign.

“We believe the only real leverage we can have against the Myanmar military is through its business dealings, and this is the area that has so far been neglected by activists, so this is what we have decided to concentrate on now.”

The campaign’s first target is Unilever – the world’s third-largest consumer goods company and a major investor in Myanmar. #AllRohingyaNow published an open letter addressed to Unilever’s CEO Paul Polman yesterday.

“We have been encouraged by the fact that Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, did sign a letter of concern regarding the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya that was addressed to the UN Security Council, and so now we are encouraging Unilever to take a lead on this matter and we will be asking others to join them,” Hanan says.

In the open letter, the campaign asks Polman: “What do you see as the ethical responsibility of a company doing business in a country where the authorities are accused of ethnic cleansing?”

Activist and Rohingya Blogger Ro Nay San Lwin co-signed the open letter to Polman. He says he believes the private sector has an important role to play in stopping human rights abuses.

“Multinational corporations should not invest in a country where more than a million people have no human dignity, basic human rights and citizenship, unless they demand to change the policy of the Myanmar government,” he says.

“I believe that convincing corporations to stand up against the genocide would be more helpful than lobbying the western governments to impose sanctions again.”

Though the Myanmar government recently announced that military operations against the Rohingya have been suspended, Hanan says that the long-term ethnic cleansing plan remains in place. And though organizers emphasize that this campaign is not intended to antagonize companies, they are prepared to incorporate other pressure tactics if necessary, to convince investors that silence in the face of genocide is not a successful business strategy.

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CITY: YANGONCATEGORY: NEWSSUB-CATEGORIES: POLITICS

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