Woodside to withdraw workers from Myanmar after suspected human rights abuses by military

Nino Bucci
·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Australian resources giant Woodside said it would withdraw its workers from Myanmar in response to suspected human rights abuses committed by the military.

The military, the Tatmadaw, enacted a coup on 1 February, arresting elected leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi.

Woodside has continued offshore drilling for natural gas in Myanmar since the coup, despite other companies withdrawing and sanctions being introduced by some governments.

Pro-democracy protesters have since been killed in clashes with the junta and police.

“Woodside condemns human rights violations,” Woodside said in a statement on Saturday. “Reports of violence against the Myanmar people participating in peaceful protests are deeply distressing.

“We have watched with growing concern since the events of 1 February 2021. Woodside supports the people of Myanmar and we hope to see a peaceful journey to democracy.

Related: Ties with Myanmar military put pressure on western companies

“Until we see the outlook for Myanmar and its political stability has improved, Woodside will keep all business decisions under review.”

It had started reducing its presence and expected “full de-mobilisation” of its drilling team within weeks. It had previously said it has about 100 workers in Myanmar.

The drilling works are exploratory and Woodside said it did not generate revenue in the country nor have any direct commercial arrangements with Tatmadaw-connected organisations.

The statement is in sharp contrast to comments made earlier this month by Woodside chief executive Peter Coleman.

“It’s not up to us to judge the veracity of grievances [the military] have around the previous election process,” he told the Energy News Bulletin.

“I understand [they] put together quite an extensive folder of grievances around the election that they wanted to be heard, and they weren’t being heard.

“They were pushed up against a difficult decision point; the day of the coup was the day the new parliament was due to proceed.”

On Friday, Woodside chairman Richard Goyder was sent a letter calling for the company to explain how its continuing operations in Myanmar were permitted under its human rights policy.

The letter, first reported by the Australian, was sent by the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Australian Council for International Development, Amnesty International, Union Aid Abroad and anti-corruption coalition Publish What You Pay.

The organisations also called for details to be released about Woodside’s exploration contracts, as they may have contained clauses that obligated them to pay the junta, which now controls all government departments and assets.

Clancy Moore, Publish What You Pay’s national director, said Woodside’s decision came after considerable pressure had been applied in Australia and Myanmar.

“Any mining, gas or oil company operating in Myanmar is at risk of legitimising the rule of the Myanmar military,” he said.

“We call on other gas and mining companies to follow Woodside’s lead and choose the people of Myanmar over the military generals.”

Multinational companies Chevron and Total, and Australian companies Myanmar Metals, Transcontinental Group, ROC and Tap Oil, continue to operate in Myanmar, Moore said.