Friday, September 17, 2021

Global firms urged to quit Yangon office block on army land

Activist group Justice for Myanmar spoke to tenants of the office complex and asked them to stop indirectly supporting the army.

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A high-end office block in Myanmar linked to the country’s military leaders is seeing an exodus of international organisations.

Coca-Cola, the World Bank, and McKinsey among others have told the BBC they have moved out or are reviewing their leases at the Sule Square complex in the commercial centre of Yangon.

The land on which the building stands was leased from the military, according to a 2019 United Nations fact-finding mission report.

Last month, activist group Justice for Myanmar spoke to 18 tenants of the complex of offices and shops in the heart of Yangon and asked them to stop indirectly supporting the army.

“Sule Square has big-name tenants that continue to lease office space in the building, indirectly supporting the army,” Justice for Myanmar said in a report.

Myanmar’s military seized power from the democratically elected government in February, sparking mass protests across the country in which hundreds have died.

Even before they took power in the Feb 1 coup, Myanmar’s military – which previously ruled the country for almost half a century after seizing power in 1962 – owned large areas of land and controlled companies involved in everything from mining to banking.

According to news agency Reuters, which itself has an office in the complex, six of the companies approached have said they have now moved out or are reviewing their plans.

Only one company mentioned the military link as a reason for moving, with other firms citing various reasons including business prospects.

In statements sent to the BBC, consultancy McKinsey & Company said: “We no longer have space in Sule Square”, and Coca-Cola said that due to “changing business requirements” it would not renew its lease when it ends next month.

“Our office-based employees at Coca-Cola Limited (Myanmar) will continue to work from home for the rest of 2021 as part of overall safety measures. We will be communicating our new office location at a later date,” the global giant said.

Reuters said it is not currently using its Sule Square office and was reviewing its tenancy, and a spokesperson for the World Bank Group, which also has an office in the complex, told the BBC that it was “assessing the situation in Myanmar”.

Norway’s state-owned telecoms operator Telenor said it knew the military owned the land before it moved in but had picked the location for safety reasons. Telenor has not said whether it plans to move out of the building.

The Sule Square complex, which is close to the historic Sule Pagoda, opened in 2017. It was developed by a local affiliate of Hong Kong listed Shangri-La Asia, which also manages the building and a neighbouring hotel.

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