These are positive steps, but governments and companies should proceed with caution. Myanmar is a country rich in natural resources, yet poverty persists. Concerns over corruption remain high as can be seen in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index, which ranks the country third from the bottom in the world.
The rule of law is weak in Myanmar – as seen in the sectarian conflict that erupted in Rakhine last week – and the judiciary is far from independent. The military has a significant stake in many sectors of the economy, and human rights groups have shown conclusively that abusive practices such as forced labor are still widespread.
When the European Union partially lifted sanctions in April, it emphasized the importance for investors to adhere to the highest standards of business practices.
These include the UN Guiding Principles on business and human rights, which were approved unanimously by the UN Human Rights Council in June last year. Those standards also include the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the EU’s new policy for corporate social responsibility, both of which draw on the UN Guiding Principles.
The Guiding Principles were the result of six years of research and consultations with many stakeholders during my mandate as UN special representative on Business and Human Rights. With their adoption, governments have reaffirmed their obligations to protect against human rights abuses involving companies.