Owner of UK beer brands ends ties with Burma military following boycott call

Kirin, owner of Fourpure, Little Creatures and Kirin Ichiban beer brands, has ended ties to the Burmese military after the military coup in the country in February 2021 and following a long-running boycott call.

The Japanese company faced growing criticism after failing to sever the ties during the military’s serious human rights crimes against the Rohingya population in the country.

Burma Campaign UK launched a boycott call against the company in August 2020, over the ties. The organisation has welcomed Kirin’s announcement, and says that other global companies must now follow suit. 

“It is an absolute no brainer that companies should not be doing business with a military that is committing genocide and holding coups,” Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK said.

Funding abuses?

Kirin previously ran a joint venture with the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (MEH), a company controlled by the Burmese military. 

In September 2020, Amnesty International published a report which found that around £12bn in dividend payments had been transferred from MEH to military units over the 20 years since it was founded. 

Shareholders in the company included Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief who has been installed as leader following the coup, as well as military battalions that Amnesty has linked to crimes against humanity against Rohingya populations, as well as war crimes in Kachin and northern Shan state.

Kirin has also admitted that its subsidiary made three donations to the military and authorities in 2017, when they were involved in the ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya. The donations totalled USD$30,000, and Min Aung Hlaing received the first in person, stating that it would in part fund “security personnel and state service personnel”.

The company launched an investigation into its links with MEH last year, but refused to publish the results and stated that it had been unable to determine whether profits from its joint venture were used to fund military activities due to insufficient information.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Burma Campaign UK all called for the company to sever ties with the military regime. 

Human Rights Watch says the company failed to act on repeated warnings, but says that the move could nonetheless “set the ball rolling toward a global effort, called on by the United Nations-backed Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar in 2019, to financially isolate the Myanmar military and weaken its ability to commit further atrocities.”

The 2019 Fact-Finding Mission urged the international community to cut off all financial and other support to the country’s military.

Kirin owns craft beer companies Fourpure and Little Creatures, via its subsidiary Lion. It also sells its own Kirin Ichiban brand in the UK, and bought a 24% stake in Brooklyn Brewery in 2017. 

The situation in Burma

Kirin’s recent decision to cut ties follows a military coup in the country in February 2021. The military has imposed a one-year national emergency, unlawfully detained Aung San Suu Kyi, who won a 70% majority in the recent election, and handed power over to its commander-in-chief, Min Aung Hlaing. 

Civilians in the country, which is also known as Myanmar, face curfews, internet blackouts and ongoing refusal of their democratic and civil rights. Dozens of protesters have been killed after security forces opened fire on demonstrations.

The coup follows a long history of violence and suppression by the Burmese military, which ruled the country as a dictatorship from 1962 – 2010, and has remained powerful in the decade since. It has been the perpetrator of genocide against the Rohingya Muslim population of Rakhine state – causing over 700,000 people to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh. 

“Companies need to be concerned, not just about public opinion, but also that international criminal courts are beginning – when they look at perpetrators of human rights violations – to also consider the facilitators, including complicit companies,” Mark Farmaner told Ethical Consumer. “There is the potential for chief executives to find themselves in court or even jail.”