Kirin terminates partnership with Myanmar brewery partly owned by military over coup

MYANMAR – Japanese drinks giant Kirin Holdings has announced its termination of a brewing partnership with Myanmar’s military after its generals overthrew the elected government in February, this year.

Kirin owns a controlling stake in both Myanmar Brewery and Mandalay Brewery in partnership with Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (MEHL), a company controlled by the country’s military and that a UN investigation has found is overseen by coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

Kirin operations in Myanmar included the production of beer brands such as Kirin Lager – one of the country’s oldest beer brands, which started brewing in 1888 – and Ichiban Shibori.

Kirin also handles domestic distribution for several foreign brands, including Budweiser and Heineken.

Prior to the coup, Kirin had been urged by human rights groups to terminate its joint-venture partnership with the MEHL, which provides the service of welfare fund management for the military.

The human rights group had alleged that Kirin’s continued part-ownership of two military-linked breweries made it in effect complicit in war crimes committed by the military.

The early February coup however gave the Japanese brewer no other reason to continue defending its joint-venture with the military in Myanmar.

“Given the current circumstances, we have no option but to terminate our current joint-venture partnership with Myanma Economic Holdings … as a matter of urgency,” Kirin said in a statement.

“We will be taking steps as a matter of urgency to put this termination into effect. We will aim to provide updates as soon as practicably possible,” the Kirin statement added.

Walking away from the breweries will be difficult for Kirin, as it will hand valuable assets to the military figures it has already been criticised for doing business with.

The withdraw is will however be a major blow to the Myanmar military as it relies on Business partnerships with multinationals to get access to much-needed foreign currency  and is also a source of international legitimacy.

A spokesperson for advocacy group Justice for Myanmar, Yadanar Maung, said Kirin had “listened to the voices of the Myanmar people” and made the right decision.

The decision by Kirin to terminate its partnership in Malaysia comes a few day after Asia-focused delivery platform Foodpanda reiterated its plans to expand its grocery offerings in Myanmar, despite of the military coup. .

Unlike Kirin, Foodpanda does not have any military ties and is thus under no moral obligation to shelve its business expansion in the Asian country.

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