The ICJ held a workshop in Mawlamyine on 3 July attended by religious leaders and youth activists from southern Mon State in Myanmar’s southeast.
The workshop aimed to facilitate discussion on strategic litigation options for communities adversely affected by existing and proposed investment projects.
The ICJ and civil society organizations have extensively documented how human rights abuses continue to occur in the context of business activities in Myanmar.
Communities generally have limited understanding of their rights, while government actors and businesses regularly flout their legal obligations.
The ICJ’s international legal adviser Sean Bain first set out applicable international standards, with a focus on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
He identified Myanmar’s nascent legal framework for environmental protection as a key area of law with potential to deter rights abuses. He noted that while in December 2015 the Government of Myanmar issued the Environmental Impact Assessment Procedure, its provisions are rarely followed or enforced in practice.
Workshop participants, from two different areas of Mon State, shared experiences of community mobilization and ideas on how to use law to protect human rights.
Presentation on Corporate Social Responsibility
Prior to this workshop, also in Mawlamyine, on 29 June the ICJ’s legal adviser presented on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) at invitation of the national assembly of MATA, the Myanmar Alliance for Transparency and Accountability.
Introduced to Myanmar only in recent years, CSR activities are increasingly invoked by foreign and local companies as evidence of responsible investment.
But in reality, many companies doing CSR have been and continue to be involved in unlawful business activities, sometimes constituting human rights abuses.
Participants from different areas of Myanmar shared stories of businesses using CSR activities in a non-transparent way without accountability.
Cases were described where CSR has allegedly been associated with corruption, undermining trust and cohesion in communities affected by large investment projects.
The presentation from ICJ pointed out that while CSR activities are voluntary and without a specific legal framework, all businesses are subject to national law and should respect human rights in accordance with international law and standards, including the UN Guiding Principles.
Lawful conduct that respects human rights lies at the core of any responsible business, and CSR activities do not change these obligations.
These activities in Mon State are part of the ICJ’s ongoing support to civil society actors in Myanmar, from community-level up to national level actors.