Norwegian telecom company Telenor has experienced a surge in the popularity of its Twitter hashtag in recent days, but not because of any new company initiative or PR strategy.
#WeAreAllRohinygaNow, a campaign by independent activists working to end the oppression of “the world’s most persecuted minority”, has been reaching out to Telenor via social media, urging the company to take a stand for the Rohingya.
Over the past few years, Telenor has invested $1.5 billion in Myanmar and plans to invest more. It already has 17 million subscribers to its telephone network and 85,000 points of sale across Myanmar, with plans for further growth. Telenor has a taken strong stance on ethical matters and sustainability. It has declared 2017 to be a year in which they will focus on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal number 10, that of “Reduced Inequalities”.
“We began this campaign by reaching out to Unilever CEO Paul Polman and we received a positive response,” says Jamila Hanan, director of the campaign. “When we saw that Telenor had taken a progressive position on social responsibility, like Unilever, we realized that this is an opportunity to encourage them also take a lead in standing against the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya. We are asking them to publicly support the United Nations recommendations, including the restoration of Rohingya citizenship, and to raise these issues with the Myanmar government.”
The Rohingya community was victim to a military ‘clearance operation’ between October 2016 and February 2017, which saw thousands of homes burnt, tens of thousands of people displaced, an estimated 1,000 people killed including babies and the elderly, hundreds of women raped and approximately 500 Rohingya men and boys arbitrarily arrested. The UN special rapporteur for Myanmar has stated that crimes against humanity took place, and a UN team documented many horrific personal testimonies of the attacks in a Flash Report that makes for grim reading.
The current situation for the Rohingya is understood to be calmer at present, but members of the #WeAreAllRohingyaNow campaign say that if citizenship is not granted to the Rohingya, the persecution will continue and further attacks are anticipated. They say it is therefore imperative that the international community acts now to ensure that the situation does not deteriorate any further, and multinational corporations have an essential role to fulfill in bringing about change.
Hanan said that prior to launching the Telenor outreach campaign she emailed their CEO Sigve Brekke to give him an opportunity to work with the activists.
“We did the same with Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, who immediately replied. Mr. Brekke has yet to respond, and we have noticed greater hesitation on the part of some Telenor executives to interact with the campaign,” Hanan explains. “They need to know that we are not here to cause them problems. The fact is, condemning genocide is not controversial, quite the opposite. We see it this as an opportunity for Telenor to join Unilever in taking a lead on this issue. No company that cares about its reputation as a socially responsible business can afford to be silent on this matter; people all across the region care deeply about the oppression of the Rohingya, and taking a moral stand against ethnic cleansing is going to be vital to any company’s success in that area.”
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