ESG: PR or Societal Play?

Author:Thamincioglu, Eve
 
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There's something I've come to expect as a business journalist. Whenever you share positive news about a company, it's often an invitation for critics to point out the not-so-positive.

So, I wasn't shocked when I received an email following the publication of an interview I did with Western Union CEO Hikmet Ersek about the company's first ESG (environmental, social and governance) report, saying:

"I was surprised to see Hikmet Ersek, CEO of Western Union, describe his company as operating to the 'highest ethical standards.'"

The email came from Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK, an NGO based in London with a mission to restore human rights and democracy in Burma. "In Myanmar," he points out, "Western Union uses Myawaddy Bank, owned by the Myanmar military, as one of its agents. The United Nations' fact-finding mission on Myanmar has accused the Myanmar military of genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority. They have called for sanctions of Myanmar military companies, stating that doing business with them is indefensible."

I did some digging, and indeed the U.N. had made the recommendation. I reached out to Western Union's PR folks, asking "Is Ersek aware of Myawaddy Bank's affiliation and are there plans to stop doing business with the bank? How does continuing to work with the bank align with Western Union's ESG mission?"

A spokeswoman said in an email that the company "condemns human rights abuses," and that "All agents selected to offer our services to the people of Myanmar undergo rigorous due diligence and they are an important conduit to making remittance accessible...

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