By Khine Kyaw
Asia News Network
The International Finance Corporation, a privatesector arm of the World Bank Group, last week released a Burmeselanguage verฌsion of its Performance Standards on Environmental and Social Sustainability.
The publication is a set of eight internationally recognised norms that guide companies and governฌments on identifying and managing environmental and social risks to achieve sustainability.
Bernard Sheahan, IFC director for infrastructure and natural resources management, said that by translating the standards into Burmese, the development bank had provided Myanmar companies and its government with access to this important tool to improve their environmental and social practices.
“There is very limited access to international goodpractice stanฌdards in the Myanmar language for local companies to follow. So this could open access to international finance, build trust with stakeholdฌers and improve business operaฌtions,” he said.
“Once policies and regulations are improved in Myanmar, the stanฌdards can always be used by compaฌnies to guide their development, improve access to finance, and enhance their operations sustainably.”
With support from the Australian government, the IFC team in Myanmar started about seven months before the release to translate the standards through a peerreview process with the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business. The MCRB helped ensure the accuracy of the document, which is now available in nine lanฌguages worldwide.
The launch of the Burmese transฌlation is expected to raise awareness of the benefits of doing business susฌtainably in Myanmar.
The standards help companies identify, mitigate and manage risks and environmental and social impacts. By following the guideฌlines, companies will learn how to assess and manage their environฌmental and social risks by knowing what kind of baseline information is required to be collected and by putting management systems and capacity in place.
How a company operates behind closed doors will greatly affect its efficiency and success in a competฌitive market, as well as with employฌee retention and stakeholder relaฌtions, the IFC believes.
“Many companies are uncertain what sustainable business means, or where to start,” Sheahan said. “The IFC Performance Standards can help point them in the right direction. When environmental and social sustainability is integrated into business planning and manฌagement from the start, companies will find that they can save subฌstantial resources.”
He said Myanmar companies that are motivated to improve their environmental and social sustainฌability would improve their access to finance and to new markets and experience stronger growth.
“We recognise that while good international practices can be achieved globally, sustainability and environmental and social standards need to address local challenges. Not all solutions are universal, or can be packaged into a onesizefitsall box. This is where translaฌtions of the performance standards into local languages become so important,” he said.
Vikram Kumar, IFC country manager for Myanmar, said locallanguage versions of the performฌance standards would help clients improve their access to financing in a country like Myanmar where there is limited capacity and experience with respect to international financฌing.
He said the standards could also help guide Myanmar’s sustainabilฌity index, encouraging more comฌpanies to become publicly listed as the Yangon Stock Exchange grows over time.
Vicky Bowman, director of the MCRB, said having a translation of the standards was very important as they provide practical guidance for both the government and compaฌnies about how to respect the rights of ethnic minorities and indigenous people, the environment, and the Myanmar culture.
“We have found that when we do training for the government or comฌpanies, language has been a barriฌer. And words have been a barrier, too. Many of these words and terฌminology never existed in Myanmar until a few years ago. It is very important to explain what those [words] mean to all Myanmar stakeholders so that they can underฌstand well,” she said.
As the Australian government underscores the importance of enviฌronmental and social standards, it provided financial support for the translation by covering half of the costs, according to Nick Cumpston, counsellor at the Australian Embassy in Myanmar.
“For Australian companies which come to Myanmar, one of the first questions I have is, ‘What are the standards we have to comply with?’ I would suggest [that they invest] in responsible ways that meet the needs of the community, civil society and the government. They [not only] have to make money but also have to be responฌsible,” he said.
Khin Thida Tin, a director at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation, said the local version would make it easฌier for Myanmar to ensure that the standards are applied.
“In the past, we prioritised only economic growth, unintentionally neglecting environmental impacts that may arise from development projects. Now it is time to strive for a common goal towards sustainฌability,” she said, adding that the authorities are learning how the standards could be integrated into policy and regulations.