New Belgium Brewing, a leader in ethical business practices, will soon be owned by a subsidiary (Little Lion World Beverages) of Kirin Holdings, a Japanese conglomerate, with ownership in breweries around the world. New Belgium has said, in announcing the transition, that its new owners are aligned with the values of the company and enthusiastic about New Belgium’s status as a B Corporation. But reporting from Colorado’s (SALT) Magazine about Kirin’s donations to the Myanmar military, which is carrying out a genocide against the Rohingya people, is a good reminder that investor-owned companies generally put profit before ethical and moral principle.
(SALT) reports that Kirin is the majority shareholder in two Myanmar breweries, Myanmar Brewery (55 percent) and Mandalay Brewing (51 percent). Its ownership partner is the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (MEHL or UMEHL, for short), a holding company founded by the Ministry of Defense. SALT reports that an August 2019 UN fact-finding mission urged all international companies to sever ties with companies controlled by the government of Myanmar: “The Mission said the revenues the military earns from domestic and foreign business deals substantially enhances its ability to carry out gross violations of human rights with impunity.”
The Myanmar army earns revenues from its ownership share of over 100 businesses, but according to the UN and an Amnesty International investigation, the army also raises revenues by soliciting “donations” from these companies.
Kirin, it appears, has blood on its hands. Whether New Belgium can bring its ethical and moral leadership to bear on its new corporate parent remains to be seen.
“At least 45 companies and organizations provided the Tatmadaw [Myanmar’s military] with $6.15 million in financial donations that were solicited in September 2017 by senior Tatmadaw leadership in support of the ‘clearance operations’ that began in August 2017 against the Rohingya in northern Rakhine.”
August 2017 was the peak of the Rohingya genocide—a campaign of terror, including sexual assault, killings, torture and the burning of villages—which has displaced over 1 million people have from their homes. Notably, Amnesty International has documented that between September 1 and October 3, 2017, Myanmar Brewing (owned by Kirin) made three donations, amounting to $30,000 to government and/or military coffers. At least one donation of $6000 has been traced specifically to the Commander and Chief of the Myanmar Army, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who accepted the donation at a televised ceremony.
Amnesty International has called on the Japanese government to investigate Kirin’s involvement in Myanmar and its support for the Rohingya genocide. Kirin insists the Myanmar Brewery donations were intended for humanitarian aid, but there is no evidence to support that claim. Kirin, it appears, has blood on its hands. Whether New Belgium can bring its ethical and moral leadership to bear on its new corporate parent remains to be seen.
Karen Kahn provides communications consulting and editorial support for Fifty by Fifty.