In November 2019, New Belgium announced its intention to sell out to Little Lion World Beverages. Little Lion is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Kirin, a Japanese beverage giant seeking to expand its international holdings. Kirin has close and well-documented ties with the Myanmar military, which has committed horrific human rights atrocities and faced international condemnation.
Myanmar genocide and crimes against humanity
The Myanmar military has been accused of ethnic cleansing and genocide by various United Nations agencies, International Criminal Court officials, human rights groups, journalists, and governments including the United States. The UN has found evidence of wide-scale human rights violations, including murder; arson; imprisonment; enforced disappearance; torture; rape; sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence; persecution; enslavement; and extermination. These crimes were committed principally by the Myanmar military, or Tatmadaw. Many of the violations documented amount to the gravest crimes under international law.
In addition to the genocide against the Rohingya people, the Myanmar military has committed crimes against humanity against other ethnic minorities, including the Karen. Tens of thousands of people have been murdered, and more than a million refugees have fled for their lives and remain in unstable camps, constituting an ongoing international refugee crisis. In October, the UN warned of “a continued threat of genocide.”
Economic support for the Myanmar military
Kirin admits to having made direct donations to the Myanmar military during the peak of the Rohingyan genocide, resulting in a call for criminal investigation by Amnesty International in 2018. Even more troubling, Kirin maintains a close partnership with Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL), a military-owned conglomerate. The Myanmar military directly funds much of its operations, which include genocide and other crimes against humanity, through such business ventures. In August 2019, United Nations experts condemned Kirin for helping fund a campaign of mass murder, rape, and arson against the Rohingya. The same UN report urged all businesses to completely sever financial ties with Myanmar’s military – months before New Belgium announced its plan to sell.
By operating breweries in Burma with the Burmese military, Kirin is helping fund a genocidal regime and normalizing its conduct. Although Kirin has been subject to criminal investigation for its donations to the military, they have failed to address the fundamental problem of their business in the country: that their business partners are responsible for genocide and crimes against humanity. There is no doubt that Kirin’s presence in Burma generates major profits for the military, including several generals who stand accused in international criminal court for mass murder, genocide, and other crimes.
New Belgium’s role
Kirin’s business ventures in Myanmar directly fund atrocities. New Belgium should have made it a condition of their sale that Kirin fully divest from all business ventures with the Myanmar military.
Immediately after announcing its sale, New Belgium owner Kim Jordan was contacted by Khim Ohmar, a human rights activist who led student protests against the Burmese military in the 1980s. Khin Ohmar offered to fly to Colorado on her own dime to give a presentation to New Belgium management, staff, and employee-owners about Kirin’s record on human rights. Reportedly, Kim Jordan declined. Instead, employee-owners were asked to vote on the sale without being informed about Kirin’s ties to genocide and brutality in Myanmar.
New Belgium continues to claim that it is dedicated to being a “force for good,” and has pledged to work with Kirin on “identifying a path forward that addresses our shared concerns [which] will involve a further examination of Kirin’s operations and relationships in Myanmar.” These bland statements offer no concrete commitment to change. On the contrary, by moving ahead with this sale, New Belgium is promoting the international expansion of Kirin, further spreading and normalizing Kirin’s criminal conduct, and joining a company that bears criminal responsibility for genocide and crimes against humanity in Myanmar.
The role of a boycott
The International Campaign for the Rohingya, among other organizations, have called for a boycott of all Kirin products. With their recent sell out, New Belgium is now included in this boycott.
The UN has concluded that Myanmar’s government is not going to hold itself accountable, and so “the impetus for accountability must come from the international community.”
Through a boycott, the international community (including our local community in Fort Collins) can demand accountability. We can place pressure on these businesses, and encourage New Belgium to use its leverage as Kirin’s largest US holding to sever all ties with the Myanmar military. Until Kirin divests from all joint ventures with the Myanmar military, we call for a boycott on all New Belgium Brewery products.
Until Kirin divests from all joint ventures with the Myanmar military, we call for a boycott on all New Belgium Brewery products.
Sign and share this online petition: Tell Kirin: End your partnership with Burma’s military
Resources for more information:
~Economic interests of the Myanmar military (16 Sept 2019) and report pdf here.