Western Union's ESG Reset: After coming under fire for working with a Myanmar military-backed bank, the firm changes course.

Author:Tahmincioglu, Eve
 
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Western Union announced in January that the company will stop using Myawaddy Bank, owned by the Myanmar military, as one of its agents. The bank came under fire for the relationship given that the Myanmar military has been accused of genocide by the United Nations.

The decision came nearly three months after Western Union's CEO Hikmet Ersek was featured in Directors & Boards' third quarter issue about the release of the company's first environmental, social and governance (ESG) report.

After the story ran, D&B was contacted by Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK, an NGO based in London with a mission to restore human rights and democracy in Burma. He wrote, in part: "I was surprised to see Hikmet Ersek, CEO of Western Union, describe his company as operating to the 'highest ethical standards.'"

"In Myanmar," he continued, "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."

A follow-up story about Western Union's possible ESG disconnect, "ESG: PR or Societal Play." ran in D&B's fourth quarter issue.

In it, a Western Union's spokeswoman said 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 to the people of Myanmar. We take concerns about our agents seriously and as noted in our ESG report, will continue to engage with our stakeholders around this and other issues of shared concern."

Western Union spokeswoman Rachel Rogala sent an email to D&B about the company's decision to stop using Myawaddy Bank.

"In Myanmar and other countries in conflict," she wrote, "Western Union plays a critical role in connecting people--whether families sending money to loved ones to meet basic needs like health care and food, or humanitarian aid organizations in need of funds for the work on the ground. Providing these services requires the use of local agents remunerated by a commission payment. Western Union conducts agent due diligence and oversight through periodic reviews to determine whether these agents satisfy relevant regulatory requirements and Western Union policies.

"As a result of such a review...

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