Heineken out of Burma
The action groups ‘A Seed Europe’ and the Dutch action group ‘XminY’ started a campaign in February 1996, called “Heineken out of Burma!”. The investment plans of the Dutch brewer Heineken Inc. in Burma (Myanmar), were said to provide material support and legitimacy to the violent dictatory rulers of the country. Heineken sees Burma as an emerging market, that must be entered without delay. Western beer markets are becoming saturated and the potentials for growth in Asia are enormous. Competitors, such as Carlsberg and San Miguel, are likewise turning their investments towards Asia. The political opposition in Burma, lead by Nobel Price laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, calls on foreign companies not to invest in Burma for the time being, however. International embargoes can support the internal opposition against the regime, she says.
Heineken has a 42% share in the Asian Pacific Brewery Ltd (APBL). This, in turn, owns 60% of the shares of the Myanmar Brewery Ltd (MBL). The remaining 40% of the shares belong to UMEHL: the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. UMEHL is lead by the military rules of the country. APBL wants to invest 15 million US dollars in a brewery in Burma. That can only be done in the form of a joint-venture with UMEHL. The military rulers force this construction onto APBL. Forty percent of the profits that the brewery will yield in the future will thus flow towards the dictators.
Heineken did not deny that the Burmese regime is guilty of gross violations of human rights. On the contrary, Heineken shared the analyses of the action groups and said to be very concerned about the human rights situation in Burma. There is one difference, however: the action groups concluded that Heineken should cancel its investments in Burma, but Heineken did not intend to do so. “We sincerely believe that we can reconcile our policy in Burma with our corporate values and norms”, so Heineken’s press officer before the Dutch media.
The action groups say: “By investing in Burma at this moment, and by embarking on a joint venture with UMEHL, Heineken makes itself an accomplice in the tragedy of the Burmese people”. This complicity consists in particular of two points. Firstly, the regime legitimizes itself through foreign investments, among other things by its control of the communications media in the country. Secondly, the investments provide the regime with the necessary means to finance its costly repressive system.
In the months that followed, action groups in the United States increasingly supported the initiative of the Dutch campaigners against Heineken’s presence in Burma. A consumer boycott against Heineken in the US was threatened. Ultimately, Heineken withdrew from the investment in Burma, by selling all its shares in the project to its partners in APBL.