Values and choices in an extraordinary situation (Op-ed by Jørgen C. Arentz Rostrup on the sale of Telenor Myanmar)

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Telenor entered Myanmar in 2014 with the ambition to bring telecommunications to the people of Myanmar to empower their society. Unfortunately, the extraordinary situation of recent months and the current developments have made it impossible for Telenor to continue the operations in Myanmar. This necessary decision was based on considerations of employee safety, regulatory conditions and good business practice.

Op-ed by Jørgen C. Arentz Rostrup, EVP and Head of Telenor Asia
Published 12 August 2021 in the Norwegian business daily Dagens Næringsliv

Telenor shares many of the concerns related to the serious situation in Myanmar that were brought up in Katrine Sund-Henriksen’s post in DN on 30 July, and which have also been communicated by organisations filing a complaint to the OECD’s Norwegian contact point concerning Telenor’s sale of Telenor Myanmar. The population is in an increasingly critical situation since the military seized control, with economic insecurity, an ongoing health crisis due to the Covid-19 pandemic and a deteriorating security and human rights situation.

On 8 July, we sadly announced the sale of our mobile telecommunications business in Myanmar. At Telenor, we operate in all countries following the same ethical business standards as we do in Norway. This is a fundamental part of our values ​​and crucial to everything that we do, in every country. The developments in Myanmar after the military seized control on 1 February have made it impossible to maintain these business standards. We have considered all possible alternatives. The conclusion was that it was not possible for Telenor to stay in the country and a sale was the best solution.

The sale to M1 Group ensures that Telenor Myanmar maintains operations, ensures critical infrastructure for a population under stress, and it allows employees to keep their jobs in a difficult situation with few signs of improvement ahead. We have made assessments related to human rights and privacy concerns of the sale and researched potential buyers.

One of Telenor’s core values ​​is openness. In the current situation in Myanmar, this is more important than ever, but it does bring challenges when balancing openness with the safety of our employees working there in increasingly demanding circumstances. Telenor will follow the guidelines of the national contact point of OECD in Norway, which means that the process of appeals shall be confidential.

We have always had close contact and dialogue with a wide range of local and international civil society organizations in Myanmar, starting before we entered the country in 2014. This has been an important part of our work for responsible business and human rights throughout our presence in Myanmar, also after the military seized power. We have also relied on extensive risk assessments since before entering Myanmar, and have been open about these, both through contact with civil society and through our yearly public sustainability briefings. However, when a listed company such as Telenor decides to sell a subsidiary of this size, the information must be confidential. Therefore, it was not possible for Telenor to inform the public about the sale before the stock market announcement on 8 July.

Telenor’s decision to withdraw from Myanmar was not based on financial assessments, but on our commitment to operate responsibly and follow the international business principles that we value. Telenor is open to dialogue with the parties who have filed the complaint to the OECD’s Norwegian contact point, and we will support the contact point with facts and clarifications. Telenor’s objective is always to comply with OECD guidelines and the UN’s guiding principles for businesses and human rights. This fully aligns with our own values ​​and has been central in the assessments surrounding the sale of Telenor Myanmar.