Japan Beverage Giant to Withdraw from Myanmar

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A man walks near an advertisement for a Kirin brand beer in Tokyo, Japan, August 25, 2020.
© 2020 AP Photo/Koji Sasahara

Japanese beverage giant Kirin Holdings Company is pulling out of Myanmar.

The decision, announced on February 14, came after a year of fruitless negotiations with the military-owned Myanmar Economic Holdings Public Company Limited (MEHL) to terminate a joint venture partnership. Kirin says it will “withdraw” from Myanmar by June.

Kirin had reportedly hoped to stay in Myanmar when it began the process of cutting ties with MEHL days after the February 1, 2021 military coup. But those hopes were dashed after facing numerous difficulties – including MEHL’s surprise filing to dissolve the joint partnership without notifying Kirin.

Kirin operates two joint ventures in the country – Myanmar Brewery and Mandalay Brewery – with MEHL. Even before the coup, human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, criticized Kirin’s ties with MEHL because they meant Kirin risked funding the military. The criticisms intensified as military atrocities, including crimes against humanity and acts of genocide against the ethnic Rohingya in Rakhine State in 2017, increasingly came to light. After the coup, pressure on Kirin mounted, culminating in a nationwide boycott of Myanmar Brewery products.

As it goes through the process of exiting Myanmar, Kirin should continually conduct rigorous human rights due diligence on its plans, ensuring it does not sell its stake in the two joint ventures to any military-owned entity. Kirin should also explore other options to responsibly disengage with the Myanmar military to prevent MEHL from benefitting financially.

Other foreign companies, including Yokogawa Bridge Corp., Tokyo Tatemono, and Fujita, should follow suit in line with 2019 recommendations from the United Nations-backed Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar to financially isolate the Myanmar military and curb its abuses.

The Japanese government should also honor the commitments laid out in its five-year National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights by ensuring Japanese businesses do not cause or contribute to human rights violations wherever they operate.

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