Responsible and inclusive businesses will be an essential part of Myanmar’s road to sustainable development.
A practical framework for corporate social responsibility in Myanmar should consist of three elements: responsibility, inclusivity and strategy. Responsibility can be achieved after identifying priority areas for responsible business activities within six “capitals”: legal, environmental, political, economical, technological and social.
Inclusivity can be achieved after identifying inclusive business opportunities within the areas of employment, along value chains, through business linkages and by developing new customer markets. A strategy can also be developed, to focus on responsibility and inclusivity.
In this article I will focus on three of the six capitals: environmental, political and legal.
Myanmar’s environmental capital is threatened by businesses that could potentially destroy large forest areas, fragile ecosystems and endangered species. Conflicting priorities and policy fragmentation hinder effective environmental protection and conservation.
Responsible businesses will ensure that they make every effort to protect the environment and can be part of innovative projects to conserve nature and restore eco-systems. In rural areas there is a huge opportunity to think about inclusive business opportunities that are profitable but at the same time create much needed jobs and incomes for local people while also encouraging communities to protect and preserve Myanmar’s rich natural heritage.
Businesses should avoid environmental degradation by publish -ing clear policies that set out their
commitment to environmental protection, by measuring and monitoring their environmental impacts, reducing adverse impacts and setting challenging yet achievable environmental targets.
Responsible companies will promote the sustainable use of natural resources and at-risk biodiversity. They will also be part of partnerships promoting environmental awareness and responsible behaviour throughout their value chain.
The government is considering how it can encourage inward investments that are linked to socially responsible objectives, but businesses operating in Myanmar still face an uncertain political landscape. Public institutions are weak as the democratisation process is ongoing.
Through responsible political involvement, the private sector has a role to play in building stronger institutions and advocating ethical behaviour in all business activities. Industry initiatives support the introduction of social-responsibility requirements in the private sector. Combining forces make efforts more effective and efficient.
In particular, the private sector has a role to play in combating corruption. Businesses can work together to promote anti-corruption activities. In order to begin tackling bribery and corruption challenges, responsible businesses will establish guidelines to set out their own commitments to ethical behaviour and ensure that their own staff report corrupt activities. There will be a need to establish anti-corruption strategies that are in line with best practices and international legal requirements. Cooperation between businesses, governments and development agencies is vital.
Myanmar is undertaking a rapid law reform and there is strong international support for developing regulatory frameworks that help promote responsible business. Businesses are nevertheless facing underdeveloped legislative and judicial systems, and need to be able to manage the weak rule of law with often unclear interpretations of how this relates to their business activities.
Responsible businesses ensure that they and their partners comply with existing laws, but go further in respecting international norms and standards relating to social responsibility, the protection of the environment and the protection of human rights. They should not seek to exploit vague laws for their own advantage.
Responsible businesses need to start with a due diligence exercise which identifies appropriate laws and international norms of behaviour relevant to their industry and their business operations. Companies need to examine their own risks in connection with rapidly developing legal frameworks.
Engaging legal advisors, industry associations and governmental agencies is vital to foster common understanding and interpretations of the law.
Richard Welford is chairman of CSR Asia, which recently released a report on Myanmar. The report is available at www.csr-asia.com.