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(Fornebu, 27 September 2021) On 28 July 2021, the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO), on behalf of 474 anonymous Myanmar-based civil society organisations, filed a complaint to the Norwegian National Contact Point (NCP) for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), alleging that Telenor Group has failed to comply with the OECD Guidelines in the sale of its subsidiary, Telenor Myanmar.
After an initial assessment, the NCP finds that the issues raised in the complaint merit further consideration, and has decided to proceed with the complaint. As stated in the assessment, the NCP has not expressed any view as to whether Telenor has acted consistently with the OECD Guidelines or not.
Telenor remains committed to complying with the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (guidelines), as well as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and we continue to support the NCP with facts and with providing clarifications in the case. Telenor has from the onset of this case, expressed openness for dialogue with the complainant and the NCP.
Due to the deteriorating situation following the military takeover, it became impossible for Telenor to remain in Myanmar and adhere to international law and human rights, as well as its own values and policies. Telenor has faced increasing pressure to activate intercept technology subject to Norwegian and European sanctions, which is unacceptable for Telenor Group.
Below is an overview of Telenor’s assessment leading up to the sale, as well as Telenor’s initial response to the NCP.
Assessments conducted prior to the announced sale of Telenor Myanmar
Respecting and promoting human rights is integral for Telenor. In adherence with the OECD Guidelines for Responsible Business Conduct and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, we have conducted regular human rights due diligence since entering Myanmar and taken steps to mitigate and reduce adverse impacts. We have also engaged in continuous dialogue with a broad set of stakeholders, including local and international civil society organisations. As part of the commitment to engagement and transparency, Telenor Myanmar has since the beginning conducted public annual sustainability briefings discussing the risks and dilemmas faced in the country, as well as mitigating actions to address those risks and dilemmas.
Since 1 February 2021, we intensified the dialogue with the local and international civil society organisations and have been as transparent as possible on the developments and challenges faced in Myanmar. The input received from civil society organisations have been part of discussions at all levels of the company. We have used all efforts to advocate for the protection and respect for human rights and used leverage to prevent and mitigate the human rights impact, in order to continue operations for Telenor Myanmar.
Since the new regime took over, we carried out thorough assessments on available alternatives in a deteriorating situation, including substantial assessments of the option of staying in Myanmar. We took into account the broader human rights impact for all rightsholders, including employees, customers, distributors, vendors and partners in Myanmar. The people in Myanmar are facing not only severe human rights violations, but also a rapidly failing economy alongside a deteriorating health and security situation. That broader human rights perspective is important to us in Telenor and has been discussed at all levels of the company since 1 February.
However, Telenor Myanmar faced increasing pressure to activate intercept equipment that is subject to Norwegian and European sanctions for use by the authorities in Myanmar. As stated on September 15, activation of such equipment is unacceptable for Telenor Group, and Telenor will not activate it voluntarily. Furthermore, as a legal and regulatory framework that safeguards our customers and adheres to fundamental human rights and international laws is not in place in Myanmar now, operating such equipment in this situation would constitute a breach of our values and standards as a company. Ultimately, this conflict between local and international law and human rights principles makes continued presence in Myanmar impossible for Telenor Group.
Process of the sale of Telenor Myanmar
The decision to sell Telenor Myanmar was not taken lightly, and we took guidance from the OECD Guidelines recommending that disengagement should be taken only as a last resort. Despite efforts to remain, we were left with no other choice but to sell Telenor Myanmar. The decision was not motivated by financial or strategic objectives. It was guided by our commitment to our values and standards. As part of the sales process, Telenor conducted integrity due diligence on the potential buyers. The sale of Telenor Myanmar to M1 Group will allow for access to service with a fourth operator for 18 million subscribers as well as for essential industries such as hospitals and banks. It will also ensure continued employment for our 750 employees, and continued livelihood for the value chain in Myanmar dependent on Telenor Myanmar. Given the situation in Myanmar, it is the least detrimental option – keeping the impact to the broad set of rightsholders in mind.
Below is a summary of Telenor’s initial response to the NCP.
Telenor shares the serious concerns of the complainants regarding the challenging situation in Myanmar. Following the military takeover, grave human rights violations are taking place and the United Nations have identified possible crimes against humanity. The human rights violations are due to the regime change, and not caused by Telenor or Telenor’s actions in the country.
Since 1 February Telenor has engaged in extensive dialogue with the local and international civil society organisations and have been as transparent as possible on the developments in Myanmar. We used all efforts to attempt to remedy the difficult situation and continue operations for Telenor Myanmar. We also carried out thorough assessments on available alternatives in the situation. The ability to continue adherence to responsible business conduct, privacy, human rights principles and international law were key factors to our assessment, as well as the security and safety of our personnel and their continued employment.
However, because of the consequences of the military takeover, Telenor was left with no other choice but to sell Telenor Myanmar. This decision was not motivated by financial or strategic objectives. It was a last resort and the only way we could prevent having to decide between following local laws or complying with international law and human rights principles. The sale of Telenor Myanmar allowed for continued employment for our 730 employees, and access to service with a fourth operator, independent of the military regime, for 18 million subscribers, as well as essential industries such as hospitals and banks.
Telenor remains committed to complying with the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises as well as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Telenor is supporting the NCP with facts and clarifications, but contends that the complaint should not be brought for further assessment by the NCP, as there is an insufficient link between the cause of the human rights violations and the operations and decision to sell Telenor Myanmar.
The human rights violations being the issue of the complaint are not caused by Telenor, nor by any contribution by Telenor, but are caused by the change of regime. Where the state has been subject to a takeover by the military, it should be recognised that it is first and foremost the international community represented by the United Nations, ASEAN and national states that will be most appropriate to influence the new regime. In accordance with the OECD Guidelines, Telenor as a company should not be held responsible for the consequences following a military takeover.
Telenor has throughout its operations in Myanmar implemented and complied with the OECD Guidelines, by respecting and promoting human rights and international law, as well as pushing for transparency and engaging in continuous dialogue with stakeholders and civil society organisations.