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Webinar: Promoting Responsible Business in Myanmar – Towards Job Creation and Sustainable Development

Introduction of the UN Global Compact

(8 March 2012) As a result of the recent changes taking place in Myanmar there is an expectation that the country will become more closely integrated into the global economy. These developments present opportunities for the promotion of responsible investment in the country. While the business community is interested in economic opportunities in the country, continued constructive dialogue will be critical to ensure a long-term and sustainable approach is adopted from the onset.

In this context, the UN Global Compact and the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) Secretariat together with the Expert Group on Responsible Business and Investment in High-Risk Areas hosted the first of an ongoing series of country-focused webinars. This webinar discussed the current environmental, social and economic risks and opportunities in Myanmar and explored how responsible business can be promoted in the country. Held in advance of the introduction of the UN Global Compact in Myanmar, this webinar facilitated a preliminary discussion laying the groundwork for the establishment of a Global Compact Local Network in the future.

Alessandra Cabras, Political Affairs Officer at the Office of the UN Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on Myanmar, discussed the Government’s agenda. She explained international political developments that are contributing to opening the country to outside investment, particularly increased numbers of high-level visits, the lifting of economic sanctions, and encouraging public statements by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. Ms. Cabras further explained a vision for the future of foreign investment in the country, which could advance sustainable development and without being exploitative. In concluding she stated, “corporate social responsibility and investment for profit are not opposite to each other”, and she noted that the economic and political reform in the country seek the mutual development of sustainable business and economic growth.

Jean-François Lassalle, Vice President Public Affairs at TOTAL, detailed the company’s operations in the country and the importance of training and human resources development. Since TOTAL began operations in Myanmar in 1992, the company has grown to a staff of 940, more than 90% of which are Myanmar nationals. These local employees benefit from consistent compensation, medical coverage, life and disability insurance, and retirement and personal loan schemes. According to Mr. Lassalle, TOTAL has “institutionalized dialogue with employees” through an employee satisfaction survey, which reveals high levels of employee motivation and satisfaction. He also expounded on other company programmes and policies such as the prohibition of bribery, transparency in contracts, comprehensive ethics assessment, a village-level communications committee and international law trainings that demonstrate TOTAL’s commitment to responsible business operations in Myanmar.

Anna Pot, Senior Sustainability Specialist at APG Asset Management, highlighted how in addition to the mandatory Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) checks undertaken for each investment, the Guidance on Responsible Business in Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas has been especially instrumental in guiding and communicating APG’s expectations in the country. Ms. Pot noted that APG has “clear expectations regarding compliance with the Global Compact Principles”, which require extra steps for companies to take when operating in these areas.

Dost Bardouille, Project Director at The Corporate Engagement Project, CDA Collaborative Learning Projects, explained that there is an “opportunity for the introduction of international good practices” in Myanmar and elaborated on the Government’s openness to training on human rights and labor practices as they extend beyond a company’s operations. She highlighted the challenge that companies and investors face in finding the right method of constructive engagement with the Government and local communities as well as the importance of companies effectively consulting with these stakeholders as soon as they consider beginning operations in Myanmar.


Contact

Adrienne Gardaz
UN Global Compact
gardaz (at) un.org

Melissa Powell
UN Global Compact
powell1 (at) un.org