Environmental sustainability and meaningful CSR to boost investor confidence


People wait at the front entrance of the Muslim free hospital in Yangon.Photo: AFP

EuroCham white Paper 2017, an advocacy document on trade and investment policies, released last week,identifies the potential for Myanmar’s growth and development in seizing the opportunities of green technologies, environmentally sound business practices and harnessing meaningful CSR.

The white paper identifies the need for a roadmap for sustainable development in construction and infrastructure, energy and health sectors with use of sustainable technologies and new generation understanding of CSR as a shared value (not merely charitable giving by companies).  These are two significant takeaways as Myanmar needs to adopt global standards and practices (in trade and investment) in order to build investor confidence. European investment would definitely play a significant in the process of transfer of technology and advanced practices of environment protection and CSR.

While reiterating many aspects that ail Myanmar’s reform process viz., the policy gaps, lack of road-maps for sectoral development, lack of coherence and coordination across ministries, absence of meaningful stakeholder processes, the White Book provides an optimistic outlook. 

Slow pace of reform and change process at the policy and implementation level no doubt has created some consternation among many Myanmar watchers, however constructive and meaningful engagement on issues at hand would be a pragmatic approach that EuroCham white paper appears to advocate. 

It is heartening to see the emphasis laid on the environmental concerns vis a vis development of sectors like construction, infrastructure and energy.  This is one area where policy development is low in Myanmar in terms of reform and regulation. Transfer of knowledge and practice in this arena would perhaps be the agenda of EuroCham advocacy groups to make a meaningful contribution in this direction. 

The critical question would be how government looks at investments in these sectors and incentivize the promoters of sustainable solutions that are environmentally sound.  One quick and easy to implement intervention that finds place in the recommendations is provisioning natural gas for domestic cooking and transport sectors that would enable cleaner environment as well as reduce burden of women.  The report mentions”… starting with few nodal centres there must be a roadmap for utilizing natural gas for its different uses and applications including city gas transport, household cooking, power and industries to spur the growth of overall economy”. What is required urgently is to identify such solutions and ensure a regulatory regime for private sector to harness the potential.

The Eurocham white paper also identifies several gaps that impede trade and investment environment.  Many of these are not new and are being discussed for the past few years during many policy engagements by trade bodies as well as other policy analysts and think-tanks.   The need for clear policy direction in different sectors,  road map for sector development, regulatory mechanism for aspects like pricing of electricity, energy, absence of institutions for environmental governance, absence of benchmarks, standards and procedures in relation to trade licensing, regulations in health and drug sector, delays in customs clearance and inconsistent application of rules and arbitrariness, simplified and easy to administer tax system, level playing field for foreign and domestic businesses,etc.,  as critical bottlenecks.  These need to be addressed through a process of transparent and consultative policy making process.

A significant lesson that European trade and investments can bring to the domestic businesses is on how to ensure meaningful corporate social responsibility.  The nascent domestic corporate sector may have few lessons to learn from their European counterparts.  However the report cautions the government not to make mandatory CSR spending as such targets would often work counter-productive.  CSR has to be seen as creating a positive value in ways that businesses work with the communities and create value.  Examples of such ventures are abounding elsewhere in terms of corporations working with the communities at the base of the economic pyramid and co-creating value. Instead of earmarking a per cent of funds for charity activities, what corporations and companies can do is to transfer managerial skills, market intelligence and governance practices to social enterprises so that communities that are engaged in rural areas would benefit. Such out of the box thinking is necessary for promotion of a mutually beneficial relationship between corporates and communities. The role of NGOs in this respect can also be emphasized.

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