We cannot make our employees in Myanmar delete data and break the law

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All telecom operators in Myanmar, as in every other country, are required to store traffic data and as a responsible employer, Telenor cannot make its employees in Myanmar delete it. It can be dangerous for employees to violate local law or the orders given by the military authorities in the country.

The situation in Myanmar today is extraordinary. The military has taken power and the country is experiencing a conflict resembling a civil war. No telecom company in the country, regardless of its owner, can over time maintain international standards in these circumstances. This is a deeply serious situation for all mobile customers in Myanmar, and the responsibility for this lies with the authorities.  

For Telenor, the military takeover has put us in a position where we have no choice but to leave the country. After thorough assessments, it became evident that the safest way to do so was by selling the operations. There are no solutions without negative consequences. Some stakeholders have said they understand that we must leave the country but have at the same time asked us to shut down the operation and delete data. We cannot do this without putting our employees at considerable risk. Not responding to direct orders or complying to local law can have unacceptable consequences. Following the military rule in Myanmar there is a state of emergency, extensive use of martial law and a lack of due process. This means that we as an employer cannot take any chances when it comes to the safety of employees in Telenor Myanmar or our partners. Data must be stored in accordance with local legislation and license terms, both in the event of a sale and if the license is returned. That means there are no good alternatives to a sale. 

We have previously said that a key reason for selling Telenor Myanmar is that we do not want to activate intercept equipment, which all operators are required to. Activation of such equipment is subject to Norwegian and EU sanctions. Telenor has as of today still not activated intercept equipment. 

It is precisely this conflict – between the requirement to comply with local law on the one hand and the concern about human rights and the risk of violations of Norwegian and European sanctions on the other – that leaves Telenor with no choice but to sell Telenor Myanmar. We cannot operate under a regime that involves violating our values, international law and human rights principles. And believe me, we have spent all our internal expertise and external capacity analysing the situation and considering potential alternatives. And our conclusion is that selling the business is the least detrimental solution for customers, employees and the broader society. Several voices have put forward alternative paths for Telenor in Myanmar, all of which involve aspects that have even greater negative consequences than this sale. They are not better solutions when considering all aspects of these alternatives.

Even though we observe that both media and other stakeholders are questioning our decision to sell Telenor Myanmar, Telenor is facing very sensitive security challenges that make this decision necessary. The Minister of Industry in Myanmar confirmed last autumn that Telenor leaders cannot leave the country without the approval of the authorities. This applies as long as the regulatory process with the authorities is ongoing and is part of the overall and ongoing risk assessment made by Telenor. These assessments have our highest priority, in line with ensuring the safety of all employees. 

Telenor hopes that the international community will intensify its efforts for a peaceful solution in Myanmar, so that in the future it will again be possible for international companies to conduct responsible business operations and create jobs that contribute to renewed prosperity for the country. 

Jørgen C. Arentz Rostrup, EVP and Head of Telenor Asia