ANZ Bank chief executive Shayne Elliot has doubled down on refusing to back a condemnation of political violence in Myanmar, saying it would put overseas staff in “harm’s way”.
The bank has declined to sign a letter calling for a “swift resolution” to a series of deadly protests across Myanmar, arguing its 33 staff in the Southeast Asian nation would be endangered by the move.
More than 700 people have been massacred by Myanmar’s military since it deposed Aung San Suu Kyi’s government in February, according to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisioners.
The letter, which backs pro-democracy protestors, has been signed by 20 multinationals with operations in Myanmar, including Facebook, Adidas, Nestlé and local oil company Woodside.
But ANZ is refusing to join, and Mr Elliott doubled down during an appearance on Friday, baulking at mounting pressure from unions and the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility.
He slammed the Finance Sector Union (FSU) for its own letter to the bank earlier this week urging them to sign, calling it “irresponsible.”
“Our primary concern is the human rights of the 33 ANZ people who work in Myanmar,” Mr Elliot told the House Economics Committee.
“For us to write a letter for some PR benefit to make us feel good, I think would put our people in harm’s way, and I would not forgive myself.”
The Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business, which drafted the letter ANZ has refused to sign, is owned by a UK-based think tank that’s funded by Western governments and multinational corporations.
The letter calls for “dialogue and reconciliation in accordance with the will and interests of the people of Myanmar”.
The FSU’s subsequent letter to ANZ, seen by The New Daily, urges Mr Elliott to reconsider the bank’s position.
“The whole world is watching the developing crisis in Myanmar and conducting business as usual during this time is unconscionable,” FSU Victorian branch secretary Nicole McPherson wrote.
“The ANZ has the opportunity to stand up for human rights, the rule of law, and ethical business dealings. We urge you to support the people of Myanmar and uphold your ethical and human rights obligations.”
In a statement sent to TND on Friday, Ms McPherson said the union movement had a “long history” of condemning human rights abuses and that it was wrong for Mr Elliot to claim the letter was just a PR move.
“Unfortunately, Mr Elliott appears to have chosen to focus his attention on the FSU, rather than the military regime committing human rights abuses,” Ms McPherson said.
ANZ does not bank for any governments in Myanmar, but does do business with about 100 multinational companies working in the country, Mr Elliot said.
“We condemn the violence and what is happening in that country no doubt, but it’s a delicate situation and we have to put the interests of what’s the right thing to do for our people, and our customers frankly, over what makes us feel good,” Mr Eliott said.
“We’ve talked about this a lot … I would be concerned such a letter could be used for purposes unintended that, as I said, would put our people into harms way.”