Human rights group urges New Belgium employees against sale, citing Kirin concerns

FORT COLLINS — A human rights group for ethnic minorities in Myanmar is arguing that New Belgium Brewing Co. could indirectly fund a genocide campaign in that country if it completes its proposed sale. New Belgium says it will remain a force for good in its operations.

Kim Jordan, chairwoman of New Belgium Brewing Co. in Fort Collins. BizWest file photograph.

New Belgium, the fourth-largest craft brewer in the United States and the largest in Colorado, announced its intentions last month to sell itself to Lion Little World Beverages, an Australian subsidiary of Japanese beverage giant Kirin Holdings Ltd. The deal’s closing is contingent on New Belgium employee-owners voting in favor of the sale.

In a statement Tuesday, the Karen Organization of America urged New Belgium’s employees to vote against the deal, pointing to Kirin’s previous financial dealings with the Myanmar government and its persecution of the Rohingya, Karens and other ethnic minorities.

“As a subsidiary of Kirin, New Belgium would become part of a key financial network

empowering the Burmese army to continue committing genocide and crimes against

humanity,” the group said.

In an open letter last month announcing the brewery’s sale, New Belgium co-founder Kim Jordan said the brewery will maintain its B-Corporation status for companies that strive for social benefits for its employees and the larger world. She also praised Lion Little for its social stances, particularly its efforts to go carbon-neutral at its New Zealand and Australia breweries starting next year.

“We are a Certified B Corp., which means that we’re dedicated to being a force for good as a business,” she wrote. “Right away, the folks at Little World told us that they were captivated by this model, and they are asking us to retain our B Corp status.”

New Belgium said it has strived to be a force for good over its lifespan, and its potential sale with Kirin will not change that.

“While reports about Kirin’s operations in Myanmar gave us pause, we believe Kirin’s commitment to human rights aligns with our mission and we remain fully committed to our core values and beliefs,” the company said. “Our view remains that the partnership with Lion Little World Beverages is the right one to take NBB into the future, and we have a firm commitment from Kirin that our own commitment to doing the right thing by our co-workers, planet and communities will continue to thrive under this new ownership.”

The Rohingya is a Muslim-majority ethnic population residing in the northwest corner of Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country. Tensions between the group and the government have a long and complex history, but generally boil down to religious differences and Myanmar’s view that the Rohingya are citizens of neighboring Bangladesh and living within the country’s borders illegally.

Myanmar’s government has been accused of systematic ethnic cleansing against the group since 2016, fueling a refugee crisis and outcry by human-rights groups. The UN’s International Court of Justice is hearing testimony about alleged crimes against humanity in the country throughout this week.

In an August report from the United Nations’ Human Rights Council, Kirin, through subsidiary Myanmar Brewery Ltd., was named as one of the companies that donated to the Myanmar military in September 2017 as part of a $6.15 million fundraising effort for the military outside of the government and out of the scope of democratic oversight.

The report says Myanmar military leaders specifically outlined “clearance operations” to attack the Rohingya population and used xenophobic rhetoric against the minority group in fundraising events. The HRC also noted that Kirin purchased a 55 percent stake in Myanmar Brewing for $560 million in 2015, with the other 45 percent owned by a military-owned corporation. Kirin later sold 4 percent of its stake to its joint owner in 2017.

Kirin admitted to donating $6,000 in cash to the Myanmar government, but under the auspices that it would be used for humanitarian efforts. It has since released a plan to tighten what charities its subsidiaries can give money to, and to review other donations for any signs that they were used toward ethnic-cleansing campaigns. However, the company continues to brew and sell beer there.

Eh Nay Thaw, a spokesman for the Karen Organization of America, told BizWest that the Myanmar military’s hold over the country’s economy means any outside company doing business in the country is indirectly supporting its military.

“As for an ethical perspective and a human rights perspective, we believe that companies like Kirin and New Belgium shouldn’t associate themselves with the military there accused of genocide and war crimes and crimes against humanity,” he said.

FORT COLLINS — A human rights group for ethnic minorities in Myanmar is arguing that New Belgium Brewing Co. could indirectly fund a genocide campaign in that country if it completes its proposed sale. New Belgium says it will remain a force for good in its operations.

Kim Jordan, chairwoman of New Belgium Brewing Co. in Fort Collins. BizWest file photograph.

New Belgium, the fourth-largest craft brewer in the United States and the largest in Colorado, announced its intentions last month to sell itself to Lion Little World Beverages, an Australian subsidiary of Japanese beverage giant Kirin Holdings Ltd. The deal’s closing is contingent on New Belgium employee-owners voting in favor of the sale.

In a statement Tuesday, the Karen Organization of America urged New Belgium’s employees to vote against the deal, pointing to Kirin’s previous financial dealings with the Myanmar government and its persecution of the Rohingya, Karens and other ethnic minorities.

“As a subsidiary of Kirin, New Belgium would become part of a key financial network

empowering the Burmese army to continue committing genocide and crimes against

humanity,” the group said.

In an open letter last month announcing the brewery’s sale, New Belgium co-founder Kim Jordan said the brewery will maintain its B-Corporation status for companies that strive for social benefits for its employees and the larger world. She also praised Lion Little…