In December 2019, the Committee Seeking Justice for Alethankyaw (CSJA) submitted a complaint to the Norwegian NCP alleging non-observance of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises by Telenor ASA and its subsidiary, Telenor Myanmar Ltd (TML). In its Initial Assessment, the NCP accepted the complaint for further consideration. The complainants did not wish to engage in dialogue and mediation, citing a lack of trust in the company. In the absence of dialogue and mediation between the parties, the NCP proceeded to examine the complaint.
The complaint mainly concerned an incident where an inactive mobile tower owned and operated by a vendor to TML, was used in a military operation to kill and drive out unarmed civilians from Alethankyaw in Rakhine State in Myanmar in August 2017. According to the complaint, Telenor and its subsidiary breached the OECD Guidelines in failing to perform due diligence, which resulted in the misuse of the tower. The complaint also raised issues concerning land use and a network shutdown in 2019.
The NCP has not found that Telenor caused or contributed to the misuse of the mobile tower in August 2017 in Alethankyaw. Telenor’s operations were, however, directly linked to the adverse impact through a business relationship. The risk of misuse of the tower was not identified in Telenor’s due diligence. In the view of the NCP, the risk was not reasonably foreseeable at the time. Today, the risk of misuse of mobile infrastructure for harmful purposes is a risk that is known and therefore must be identified and mitigated in Myanmar and other high-risk contexts. Telenor has informed the NCP that this risk has since been included in risk assessments.
When it comes to the issues raised concerning land use and internet shutdown orders, the NCP finds that Telenor identified and worked to mitigate these risks, in pre-investment and ongoing due diligence.
The NCP has determined that Telenor in general sought to respect human rights and carry out due diligence in accordance with the OECD Guidelines. There were several positive features in Telenor’s efforts to identify, prevent and mitigate human rights risks and communicate about these in Myanmar. Human rights policies were included in contracts with vendors and business partners and followed up. Telenor engaged with stakeholders in Myanmar and internationally. The NCP also found room for improvement in view of the context. Telenor did not seek to engage with the affected stakeholders following the incident raised in the complaint. In general, engagement with stakeholders did not sufficiently prioritise the most vulnerable groups; in this case, the Rohingya. The NCP recommends Telenor to prioritise the most vulnerable groups in future stakeholder engagement.
The OECD Guidelines and accompanying guidance call for enhanced, proactive and reactive due diligence in conflict-affected and high-risk areas. In a context like Myanmar, enhanced due diligence calls for identifying the risk of complicity with human rights violations and due diligence regarding the risk of doing business with the military or entities linked to the military. It calls for stakeholder engagement where the most vulnerable and severely impacted groups are prioritized.
The Specific Instance shows the importance of heightened due diligence in conflict-affected areas. Vulnerable groups require particular attention. Frode Elgesem, Chair of the NCP
For commentary/interview, contact Frode Elgesem, ph. 416 96 089.