Junta threatens businesses to stock military-made products amid boycotts

The regime’s move to compel stores and restaurants to carry their brands is an apparent response to substantial revenue losses incurred since the coup

Faced with unprecedented revenue losses in the two and a half years since seizing power, the military council is seeking out and intimidating merchants who are not selling military-manufactured goods targeted by public boycotts. 

According to several leaked documents from junta authorities at the regional and state level, which Myanmar Now has seen, the military council issued an internal directive on September 5 to investigate which stores and shops in their respective territories are not selling “certain” telephone SIM cards and goods. 

“It is necessary to identify big stores and certain retail shops engaging in discriminatory practices with their goods, and to determine whether the identified shops have any direct or indirect connections to terrorist organisations or are providing support to such organisations,” a letter issued by the junta’s administrative council of Mandalay Region said.

Some shops have even displayed signs to advertise their refusal to sell those products, the letter noted. Myanmar Now understands that the motive of the ordered investigations is to compel merchants to sell goods produced by military-owned businesses. 

A nationwide, non-violent resistance movement, which surged throughout Myanmar following the military’s seizure of power February 2021, met with forceful crackdowns by the coup regime. In response, activists opposed to the coup advocated boycotting military-made products to deprive the regime of revenue. 

Military-owned products boycotted by the public included brands that had been in high demand inside the country such as Myanmar Beer, Mytel SIM cards and Red Ruby cigarettes. Myanmar Beer in particular has become unavailable despite its former popularity on the domestic market. 

Posters calling for boycotts of military-owned products, seen in Yangon in 2021. Photo: Supplied

According to retailers who responded to Myanmar Now’s requests for comment, the junta’s police and municipal administrative officials began inspecting restaurants and stores in Yangon, Mandalay, Naypyitaw and other cities and towns starting on September 6, the day after the military council issued the directive. 

In Latha Township, located in downtown Yangon, authorities summoned a number of restaurant-owners to the township’s general administration office over the course of a few days, pressing them into agreeing to stock the military-owned beer brands Black Shield and Myanmar Beer, the manager of a restaurant in the township’s Chinatown area said. 

“They informed us that we must have Black Shield and Myanmar Beer in stock at our shops. When they come to inspect, if they find we don’t sell these things, there could be problems for shop owners,” he said. 

Starting from the second week of September, a number of branches of City Mart – the country’s biggest supermarket chain – in Yangon also began stocking Myanmar Beer again.

Restaurants in Mandalay’s Aungmyaythazan Township and Naypyitaw are also now subject to inspections to verify that they sell military-owned products. 

Screenshot from a pro-junta propaganda Telegram channel’s post about inspecting shops
to see whether they sell military-owned products

Local junta authorities are also investigating restaurants, mobile phone shops, and other retailers for boycotting military-owned brands in other regions and states, according to pro-junta propaganda channels on social media.

Nan Lin, co-founder of the University Students’ Union Alumni Force (USUAF), urged the general public to continue boycotting military-owned products.

“The shops will have to sell military-owned products due to pressure from the military. While the stores may be required to stock these items, the crucial point is to refrain from buying them. Don’t drink it!” he said, referring to the military-owned beer brands.

Nan Lin added that the military council is threatening and pressuring shop owners to sell their products because of the substantial losses they have incurred from the boycotts, an argument borne out by available information on revenue flowing to military-held businesses. 

In early May 2021, the Japanese beer and beverage firm Kirin Company, formerly in partnership with the military-owned Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL), released a report showing that in just over three months since the coup, Myanmar Beer sales had plummeted by 46 percent.

In November 2020, before the Myanmar military coup, the Japanese beer company had already announced its decision to suspend payments to the military. 

After the coup, Kirin announced again that it planned to complete its separation from military-owned businesses. At the end of June 2022, Kirin made a public decision to sell its 51 percent controlling share in Myanmar Brewery Limited.

In addition to Myanmar Beer, other military-owned alcoholic beverage brands include Andaman Gold, Andaman Gold Special, Army Rum, Black Shield, and Black Shield Stout.

In addition to the beer boycott, human rights activists have urged the public against using SIM cards produced by the Mytel telecommunications company, a joint venture between the Vietnamese and Myanmar militaries.

Myanmar’s top generals have used their long-held positions of power to establish and manage myriad companies and businesses for decades, with products ranging from alcohol, beer and tobacco to soap, condensed milk, coffee, and dry tea leaves. 

Through the companies it owns, the military also continues to hold interests in jewellery production, mining, fuel production, banking, tourism, transportation, health services and food production.

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