New Rohingya rights campaign means business; reaches out to Unilever

Press Release. 20th February 2017

The Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar have been subjected to gross human rights abuses that the United Nations say may constitute ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.  A recent UN report detailing incidents of systematic gang-rapes by the Myanmar army, and the brutal killing of civilians, including women, children, and infants, has intensified international concern over the plight of the Rohingya, and has given a new sense of urgency to rights activists involved in the issue.

A new campaign called #WeAreAllRohingyaNow is adopting a unique approach to ending the persecution, by reaching out to major companies investing in Myanmar.

“We have lobbied governments and organisations to do what they can, but nothing so far has had any real affect; our governments are constrained by business interests,”  says Jamila Hanan, who has been an activist involved in the Rohingya issue since 2012,  and is spearheading the new campaign.“We believe the only real leverage we can have against the Myanmar military is through its business dealings, and this is the area that has so far been neglected by activists, so this is what we have decided to concentrate on now.”

The campaign’s first company of interest is Unilever, the world’s third largest consumer goods company and a major investor in Myanmar.

“We have been encouraged by the fact that Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, did sign a letter of concern regarding the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya that was addressed to the UN Security Council, and so now we are encouraging Unilever to take a lead on this matter and we will be asking others to join them.”

Today, the campaign has published, and sent to Polman, an open letter asking the company to take a stand against what many call a genocide of the world’s most persecuted minority.  Though the Myanmar government recently announced that military operations against the Rohingya have been suspended, Hanan says that the long-term ethnic cleansing  plan remains in place.

Prominent figures from the Rohingya diaspora are lending their support to the campaign as well. Community representative, Ro Nay San Lwin, co-signed the open letter to Polman, and believes the private sector has an important role to play in addressing the issue.  “Multinational corporations should not invest in a country where more than a million people have no human dignity, basic human rights and citizenship, unless they demand to change the policy of the Myanmar government,” Lwin says.  “I believe that convincing corporations to stand up against the genocide would be more helpful than lobbying the western governments to impose sanctions again.”

Hundreds of people from all across the globe have registered to participate in the #WeAreAllRohingyaNow campaign, which organisers emphasise is not intended to antagonise companies, but rather to encourage them to expand their commitment to social responsibility, by taking steps to end the repression and atrocities in Myanmar.  However, activists have stated that they are prepared to incorporate other pressure tactics if necessary, to convince  investors that silence in the face of genocide is not a successful business strategy.

Says Hanan, “The public is increasingly angry and upset about the constant stream of horrific testimonies we are receiving from the Rohingya people. This has gone on far too long now, we must all take a stand to stop this. We hope this campaign will enable many people to get involved, to change their anger and despair into compassion and concern, and channel those sentiments into effective group action that will bring change.”

For more information, please contact:

Jamila Hanan:  jamilahanan1@gmail.com or @jamilahanan

Link to the open letter: http://allrohingyanow.org/act/unilever-myanmar-rohingya-genocide/

Campaign logo for publication: http://bit.do/rohingyalogo

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