Telenor stands by Myanmar withdrawal, laments ‘deteriorating’ situation

Calls for Telenor to maintain its local presence have clearly not been enough to convince it to stay, with the company indicating that its continued operation in Myanmar is not tenable.
Yangon, Myanmar

Yangon, Myanmar

Norwegian telco operator Telenor has doubled down on its decision to withdraw from Myanmar through the sale of its business in the troubled country, expressing deep concern about the ‘deteriorating’ human rights and security situation in the nation.

In July, just days after moving to quell rumours it was planning to sell off its Myanmar mobile telco business, Telenor revealed it had struck a deal to sell its Telenor Myanmar subsidiary to Lebanese conglomerate M1 Group for US$105 million.

The move came after months of hardship for Telenor Myanmar and, indeed, all other telco operators in the country, after Myanmar’s military declared a state of emergency in February, subsequently shutting down mobile internet across the country.   

But not everyone has been happy with Telenor’s move to offload its Myanmar business, according to new statement from the company. However, calls for Telenor to maintain its local presence have clearly not been enough to convince it to stay, with the company indicating that its continued operation in Myanmar is not tenable.  

“Since Telenor announced the sale of Telenor Myanmar Ltd. to M1 Group, an increasing number of voices among stakeholders in Myanmar and abroad have been calling for Telenor to remain in Myanmar due to our demonstrated commitments to human rights, responsible business, and international best practices,” Telenor said in its statement.

“Telenor shares these concerns and has made all possible efforts to stay in Myanmar. We remain committed to complying with the OECD’s [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s] guidelines for multinational companies, as well as the UN’s [United Nations’] guiding principles for business and human rights.  

“This also corresponds well with our own values and standards. We did however arrive at the sad conclusion that it is no longer possible to adhere to these principles, keep our employees safe and at the same time remain as an operator in Myanmar. This makes our continued presence in Myanmar untenable,” the company added.

In its statement, Telenor noted that developments since the military takeover in Myanmar had made it clear that the company’s continued presence would require Telenor Myanmar to activate intercept equipment for use by Myanmar authorities.  

It is thought that travel restrictions reportedly applied to senior telco executives, both Myanmar nationals and foreigners, earlier this year, were ordered in a bid to convince the country’s main telco provider firms to implement the intercept technology that would allow authorities to spy on calls, according to Reuters.  

“The intercept equipment in Myanmar is subject to Norwegian and international sanctions and activation of such equipment is therefore unacceptable for Telenor Group,” the company said. “Furthermore, as a legal and regulatory framework that safeguards our customers and adheres to fundamental human rights and international laws is not in place in Myanmar now, operating such equipment in this situation would constitute a breach of our values and standards as a company.  

“Ultimately, this conflict between local and international law and human rights principles makes continued presence in Myanmar impossible for Telenor Group,” the telco added.

Telenor said that despite pressure to activate the intercept equipment, it has thus far worked to actively avoid implementing the technology. Further, the company stressed that it would not activate the intercept equipment voluntarily.  

“Telenor is deeply concerned and saddened by the deteriorating human rights and security situation caused by the military takeover, especially for the people of Myanmar,” the company said. “For Telenor, it is crucial to maintain our international commitments and legal obligations and act in accordance with our values and human rights, no matter where we operate.

“Despite our efforts to remain, Telenor Group can no longer continue to operate in Myanmar. We believe a sale is the least detrimental solution for the Myanmar society, as it will maintain the connectivity of our 18 million subscribers as well as critical services such as banks and hospitals, and ensure continued employment for our staff and broader value chain in a difficult time.  

“Our efforts are now focused on obtaining regulatory approvals for the sale of Telenor Myanmar Ltd,” it added.