In 2015, Japan-based transnational beverage giant Kirin Holdings Co. bought a 55 percent stake in Myanmar Brewery Limited, the biggest beer maker in the country. In an effort to strengthen its steely grip on the market, Kirin bought a majority stake in Myanmar’s Mandalay Brewery Limited in 2017. Both brewers are joint ventures with Myanma Economic Holdings Limited or MEHL, an opaque military-owned conglomerate run by high ranking generals in the Tatmadaw (the official name of the armed forces of Myanmar or Burmese military). This is how Wikipedia describes Myanma Economic Holdings Limited (yes, there’s no R).
MEHL is owned by the Burmese military, and is influenced by senior Tatmadaw leaders. Revenues generated from MEHL have strengthened the Burmese military’s autonomy from civilian oversight, and has contributed to the military’s financial operations in “a wide array of international human rights and humanitarian law violations.”
I personally did a deep dive that won an investigative reporting award back in 2019 on this very subject as Kirin sought to buy New Belgium Brewing Co., a craft brewery renowned for doing the right things. Kirin has been vested in Myanmar (formerly Burma) for years, selling beer in the backdrop of southeast Asia’s sad 70-year civil war. Why? Kirin Holdings Co. has billion in assets and rakes in hundreds of millions in profits annually. How much more money does it need to help finance its many tentacles?
With the Myanmar army once again taking over the country, declaring a year-long state of emergency, now is the perfect time for Kirin to shed all business ties with MEHL, but it’s not doing that.
What is Kirin doing?
Baby steps! Back in November, Kirin Holdings Co. announced it was halting payment of dividends from Myanmar Brewery Limited and Mandalay Brewery Limited to Kirin and Myanma Economic Holdings. It also did an investigate report on the subject, and here is its conclusion:
The purpose of this assessment was to determine the destination of proceeds received by MEHPCL from the joint-venture businesses Myanmar Brewery Limited (“MBL”) and Mandalay Brewery Limited (“MDL”). Unfortunately, the assessment was inconclusive as a result of Deloitte being unable to access sufficient information required to make a definitive determination.
Ahh…. Wait, is that not concerning? Not knowing where the money goes? Not knowing who you’re doing business with? I’m not a business dynamo, but this seems like a red flag. Yet, they must have found something, right? From Human Rights Watch:
Japan-based Kirin Holdings Company, Ltd. should publish its investigation report on the military-owned Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. (MEHL) and swiftly cut ties with the company, Human Rights Watch said today. Kirin announced the conclusion of an investigation by Deloitte Tohmatsu Financial Advisory LLC on January 7, 2021, but declined to publish the report for confidentiality reasons.
“Kirin should regain some trust of consumers, investors, and rights groups by releasing the details of its investigation into the operations of its Myanmar military business partner,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Kirin’s business association with MEHL raises serious human rights concerns that need urgent action, not further obfuscation behind an investigation whose results are kept secret.”
Who cares, right? When’s the last time the world wasn’t falling apart? When’s the last time a big company wasn’t screwing over its customers? Well, we’re not just talking about a big, faceless, money-addicted corp. Kirin has investments in two of the biggest brands in American craft beer — Brooklyn Brewery with 24.5 percent ownership, and it owns New Belgium Brewing outright.
Kirin has continued to sidestep arguments on its compromising business deals in Myanmar for years, and as a human and a discerning beer drinker, this course of action absolutely baffles and troubles me. But hey, I guess a country under the stress of an extremely scary military-run government is going to be drinking lots more beer, so maybe this is just good business.