International Alert has contributed to a two-day workshop with the private sector in Myanmar exploring how the adoption of responsible business practices is crucial to supporting sustainable development in the country.
The workshop was organised by the Kaw Lah Foundation, with technical assistance from the Peace Nexus Foundation and the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business (MCRB), and aimed to raise awareness about conflict-sensitive business practices and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
The importance of businesses engaging with their local communities to ensure they complied with the principles of “do no harm”, while also making positive contributions towards peace, was emphasised, with workshop facilitators using various tools and methods to ensure all participants understood the key messages.
Myanmar is transitioning from a military to democratic government, and the shift from a state-controlled to market-oriented economy has opened up opportunities for both local and foreign businesses to generate more income and improved services for the country. Additionally, ceasefires negotiated with ethnic armed groups have created more possibilities for businesses to invest in areas previously affected by conflict.
However a number of controversial business practices have brought harm on local communities. Many communities in fragile and conflict-affected parts of the country feel that they have not been properly consulted about investment decisions, and corruption, land grabbing, and a lack of transparency are key issues which can lead to conflict between communities and businesses. Investment in the natural resources sector in particular has also resulted in environmental degradation and alleged human rights abuses, so this new hope for economic growth is also tempered by a wariness for how things can be made worse.
International Alert is therefore calling for new investments to be responsible and ethical to ensure they contribute to growth and stability in the country, in such a way that can support, and avoid undermining, progress towards peace.
The workshops were convened to support this vision, giving businesses an important insight into how they can positively influence progress towards peace in their local areas. As one participant commented: “We learnt that for any business activities it is vital to have a good plan which must be implemented in a conflict-sensitive way.”