MEDIA RELEASE: Kiwis investing in the companies supporting the Myanmar military

9th Feb. 2023

Two years ago, Myanmar was thrown into turmoil as the military staged a brutal coup, leading to a human rights crisis that continues today. Despite reports of war crimes and indiscriminate attacks against innocent civilians, the will of the people remains strong.

Two years ago, on February 1st, a dark chapter was written in Myanmar's history as the military staged a brutal coup, sending the country into a human rights crisis. The military's response to resistance has been nothing short of horrific, with reports of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and indiscriminate attacks against innocent civilians. Despite the spiralling violence, torture and killings, the UN reports that “the will of the people has certainly not been broken.”

New Zealand investors will be shocked to find that their funds are invested in companies that are supporting the Myanmar military in undertaking these atrocities. Mindful Money is calling on the New Zealand government and finance companies to heed the UN call for concerted action to cut off funding and support for the Myanmar military.

The CEO of Mindful Money, Barry Coates called for New Zealanders to support the courageous monks, civil society leaders and citizens who are calling for a peaceful transition to democracy: “While the media headlines are focused on Ukraine, the Myanmar military is committing atrocities against its people. We need our government and the finance sector to stop supporting the Myanmar military and instead to join the international movement to press for the resumption of democracy.”

Gross violations of human rights

In the past two years, over one million people have been forced to flee their homes and countless others have suffered at the hands of the military's violence. With over 2,900 confirmed deaths and 17,200 arrested, the real toll is believed to be much higher.

The military's atrocities range from airstrikes to burning down villages, sexual assault, and torture. The international community has taken notice and the military is now facing a genocide investigation by the International Court of Justice.

The violence continues as the military receives support from overseas companies in the form of funds, arms, jet fuel, and other services. This support, directly and indirectly, allows the military to carry out these acts of violence and human rights violations and will continue to do so for as long as the support is provided.

International sanctions in comparison to New Zealand

Some of the international community are taking strong action against the human rights crisis in Myanmar, but New Zealand is lagging behind. Countries such as Australia, Canada, the UK, the USA, and the EU have quickly imposed sanctions targeting military conglomerates, state-owned enterprises controlled by the military, and the military's jet fuel supply chain. They have also implemented embargos on the supply of arms and equipment.

While the New Zealand government has suspended high-level political and defense engagement with Myanmar, it has yet to take action to stop support in the form of arms, fuel, and other services to the military. This puts us far behind the rest of the world in the fight against human rights violations.

Barry Coates commented: “It's time for New Zealand to take a stronger stance and impose targeted sanctions. Our country has a history of taking a stand against human rights violations, and it's time to show the world that we are committed to doing the same in Myanmar.”

International companies providing support to the Myanmar military

Mindful Money has undertaken research to identify the companies that are providing support to the Myanmar military, and therefore fuelling the military coup. We pulled together a list of 102 international companies involved in direct or indirect support from the following sources:

Each company on this list was researched further to determine the extent, severity, and impact of their support to the military. We then placed each company into the following categories:

  • Serious offenders = where the company’s revenues are directly going to the military, or the company is directly supplying weapons, fuel and services to the military; or
  • Probable offenders = where companies are indirectly supporting the military with services such as mobile communication channels, or where the company’s operations have increased militarisation in a local area.

A total of 29 companies were found to be Serious Offenders.

Kiwis investing in the companies supporting the Myanmar military

Many New Zealanders may be unaware that they are unknowingly investing in companies that are supporting the Myanmar military and its actions.

The vast majority (90%) of the New Zealand public have made it clear in annual surveys that they do not want their funds to go to companies involved in human rights violations.

However, as at the end of September 2022, a large number of funds were invested in the companies that are serious offenders in supporting the Myanmar military:

  • 88 KiwiSaver funds with total investments of $4.0m
  • 95 retail investment funds with total investments of $4.5m

Overall, these are small investments compared to the total KiwiSaver and investment funds, but the scale of investment is more significant for specific funds.

Mindful Money has written to the fund providers invested in serious offenders to ask if they are still invested in these companies. If so, we have requested that they divest their direct holdings or, for those that are invested indirectly through index funds or diversified funds, to engage with their external fund providers.

Barry Coates concluded: “Many Kiwis would be surprised to learn that their funds are being invested in companies that support the Myanmar military at a time when they are responsible for massive human rights violations. We call on fund managers to take this issue seriously.”