Responsible Investment in Burma?

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Recent reforms in Burma are leading policymakers in the E.U. and U.S. to consider whether and when to ease or eliminate longstanding economic sanctions against Burma.  The E.U. may in fact greatly reduce or entirely eliminate sanctions over the coming months, and the international community is looking closely at the fairness of the upcoming April 1st by-elections, when Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy among other political parties are contesting a number of seats in the parliament as a barometer through which to view the pace and seriousness of reform efforts.

At this critical time in Burma’s history, international investors appear keen to enter the Burmese market to tap the country’s vast natural resources. However, lack of adequate laws and regulations, a weak and non-independent judiciary, and the continued violation of rights by local authorities and the military remain major obstacles to responsible development.  Without substantial institutional reform and implementation, both at the national, regional and local level, development may exacerbate risks to the people and environment of Burma, while only serving to enrich investors and well-connected individuals at the expense of the well-being of impacted communities.

Within this dynamic environment, the Burma Environmental Working Group (BEWG), of which ERI is a member, has issued its Benchmarks for Responsible Investment in Burma’s Energy, Extractive and Land Sectorsto serve as a starting point for a framework for responsible and sustainable investment in Burma.   The following are BEWG’s five major benchmarks for investors:

  • Do No Harm: Investments should not exacerbate natural resource and land-based conflict in Burma
  • Best Practices or No Practices: Investors should respect international environmental and human rights law and standards, and follow international best practices in human rights, social, and environmental impact assessments
  • Act Transparently and with Principles: Investors should have a zero-tolerance policy on corruption and should uphold full revenue and contract transparency.
  • Support Civil Society not Impunity:  Civil society should be free to fulfill their role without threat of repression or abuse.
  • Empower Community not Profit:  Community grievances must be fully addressed in existing and proposed investments.

While a wider, multi-stakeholder process, including civil society in Burma, investors, policy-makers and others is critical to wider acceptance, these benchmarks, if implemented, will protect the environment, improve transparency of natural resource stewardship, and empower communities to participate in development decisions and guard against future abuses.

This post was written by Paul Donowitz.

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