Norway’s Telenor in Myanmar should do more than pull out – it should not hand sensitive data to the regime

October 26, 2021

The Norwegian firm took a principled stance to Myanmar’s coup. The same can’t be said for its exit from the country, writes Aung Myo Min, Minister of Human Rights in Myanmar’s National Unity Government., on 25 October 2021.

Praising Norway as a global leader when it comes to protecting human rights defenders and Telenor for acting in principled ways following the attempted coup by pushing back against the military junta’s illegal directives, the author is perplexed that in July, “after considering all possible alternatives and events,” Norway’s largely state-owned telecoms provider agreed to sell its Myanmar operations to the Lebanese firm M1 Group. According to the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO), M1 is “infamous for its business activities in countries with violent totalitarian and extremist regimes.” In 2012, telco MTN Syria, a subsidiary of MTN in which M1 is the major shareholder, undermined protest leaders by blocking text messages at the behest of the Bashir al-Assad regime. In 2013, MTN installed “lawful surveillance equipment” for its mobile network in South Sudan during a crackdown on government critics by state security forces.

It is to be feared that M1 group will hand over user details of some 18.2 million Telenor users to the military junta, placing human rights defenders even more clearly in the crosshairs.

Telenor has operated in Myanmar since 2014, a decision that back then, according to the Group, was informed by “a thorough human rights impact assessment as part of the due diligence.” The Norwegian Government holds a 53 percent stake in Telenor.s.

The Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations, in coordination with 474 Myanmar civil society organizations, has lodged a complaint against the sale with the Norwegian National Contact Point (NCP) for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and, after an initial assessment, the watchdog found merit in the claim. Mediation may well follow. This offers Telenor and the Norwegian government an opportunity to salvage something significantly more valuable than telecoms assets and investments: their reputations.

Telenor says that its decision to sell “was not motivated by financial or strategic objectives,” but guided by its “commitment to its values and standards.” This commitment requires scrutiny. The potential sale of Telenor requires assessment of any adverse human rights impact and prevention or mitigation where they present.

https://thediplomat.com/2021/10/telenor-in-myanmar-norways-human-rights-reputation-is-on-the-line/

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