Japanese beer maker Kirin takes action to speed up exit from Myanmar market

Kirin Brewery Company, the Japanese beer maker that announced its plans to withdraw from Myanmar earlier this year, moved to hasten that process on Thursday.

In a statement, the company said it has decided to transfer all of its shares in two companies that it has jointly operated in the country to Myanma Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL), its military-owned joint venture (JV) partner.

The company said that it would sell its 51% stake in Myanmar Brewery, once the leading beer maker in the country, to MEHL for 22.4b yen ($164m) and its shares in the smaller Mandalay Brewery for an undisclosed amount.

According to the statement, the company chose the share buyback option over two alternatives—finding a third party to buy its shares or liquidating the two JV companies—because it would allow it “to quickly terminate the joint venture” with a minimal impact on employees and other stakeholders.

The transfer of shares will put MEHL, a conglomerate with interests in many sectors of the Myanmar economy, in full control of the two breweries after Kirin completes the exit.

In February, Kirin announced plans to pull out of Myanmar once its partnership with MEHL was dissolved, after earlier expressing a desire to remain in the country.

“Kirin Holdings has committed to end the matter by the end of June,” the company said in a statement released at the time.

The company soured on its ties with the military in the wake of last year’s coup, which saw deadly crackdowns on peaceful protests around the country.

Saying that it was “deeply concerned by the recent actions of the military,” the company moved swiftly to announce plans to part ways with MEHL after years of resisting calls to do so over military atrocities against the Rohingya and other groups.

A year later, however—and after seeing its profits in Myanmar fall 40% due in part to a nationwide boycott of military-linked companies—Kirin was still wrangling with MEHL over the terms of their separation.

In response to Thursday’s announcement, activist group Justice For Myanmar (JFM) criticised Kirin for what it called “an irresponsible exit.”

“Kirin appears to be excusing this irresponsible exit by claiming it is in the best interests of workers,” JFM spokesperson Yadanar Maung said in a statement.

“The responsible move is to deny funds to the terrorist Myanmar military and remedy negative impacts to workers through compensation,” she added.

Referring to a decision by Kirin in November 2020 to withhold dividend payments over a dispute about MEHL’s lack of transparency, she also called on the company to fully account for the money that it says was not paid to the military.

“We demand Kirin disclose their human rights due diligence, and the fate of the dividends that they had been withholding from MEHL,” she said.

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