Western Union, which provides money transfer services, confirmed with rights group Burma Campaign UK on Tuesday its decision to cut ties with the subsidiary bank of the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (UMEHL), one of the two military conglomerates.
“Western Union conducts agent due diligence and oversight through periodic reviews to determine whether these agents satisfy relevant regulatory requirements and Western Union policies,” said Western Union in an email seen by this newspaper. It added that the decision was the result of a recent internal review.
The move came after a 2019 August report by the UN-mandated International Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar that called for sanctions against military-owned businesses and companies with dealings with the military.
“Any foreign business activity involving the Tatmadaw...poses a high risk of contributing to, or being linked to, violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law,” the report said. Myanmar rejected its findings.
When contacted by The Myanmar Times U Yu Lwin, assistant managing director of Myawaddy Bank said the company had no comment.
Currently, Western Union is still cooperating with Ayeyarwady Bank, CB Bank, First Private Bank, KBZ Bank, Yoma Bank, UAB Bank and MAB Bank in Myanmar.
Last October, 33 organisations, including Burma Campaign UK and Progressive Voice, penned an open letter to Western Union, urging it to terminate its business relationship with Burma’s military. “Profits from Myawaddy Bank benefit the military,” it said.
As reported by The Myanmar Times, pressure has built on businesses, local or foreign, dissuading them from any dealings with the military. Clothing company Esprit, for example, announced it would stop future orders from military-linked manufacturers, while the UK Department for International Development asked its partners “to review their supply chains to check UK money is not being used to purchase goods and services from companies identified as military-owned.”
“This is a significant step forward in our campaign to stop international companies funding genocide and crimes against humanity in Burma [Myanmar],” said Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK, in a statement.
“We expect other companies, such as Kirin Holdings of Japan, to follow Western Union’s example and cease doing business with Burma’s army,” said Simon Billenness, executive director of the International Campaign for the Rohingya and Campaign Director of No Business With Genocide.
“We will be stepping up pressure on other companies on our ‘Dirty List’ including Portia Management Services, a British company managing a military-owned port in Yangon,” said Mr Farmaner, referring to the list of international firms which Burma Campaign UK says are doing business with the military or engage in investments involving human rights violations or environmental destruction.