3 April 2016

A New Dawn: China Meets Myanmar

All too often we hear terrible news stories about enormous, faceless corporations trampling over the interests of local people who stand in the way of new and lucrative projects. So, for once, it’s refreshing to bring you the story of a coming together of one group of people and a large company, made all the more remarkable because it happened during a period of immense political upheaval.

Myanmar recently elected its first civilian president after half a century of military rule. This was the culmination of years of internal struggle with a regime which would make deals with overseas investors with little or no thought for its own population.  A few years ago the residents of Myo Kyo Pyin village were told, with no consultation, that their entire settlement was to be relocated to make way for a mine owned and operated by Wanbau.

Fifty years of being told what to do did not stop the villagers from taking matters in to their own hands, however.  They barricaded the company’s new premises, effectively blocking it from the outside world.  After ten days the government intervened.  Yet instead of sending the troops in it set up a commission which eventually decided that the mine could go ahead but with some conditions.

Myanmar Wanbau even went further.  It brought in a British risk management advisory British company, China-I, to identify the social risks and the main factors behind the company’s problems. This remarkable video shows how all of this worked – a lttle history in the making as this was the very first time a Chinese company had asked a British company for help in the resolution of an international reputational risk issue.

As I said at the beginning of this post, we’re so used to seeing multinationals trampling over the interests of local people.  However, as this video shows, perhaps the way forward is to deal with crises not through escalating the issue but instead by cooperating directly with the people whose lives are affected.