Tiger Beer, BreadTalk and Ya Kun Kaya Toast among SG brands facing boycott in Myanmar

Some Singaporean F&B brands have been called out for not taking a stand concerning the recent military coup in Myanmar. Graphics urging consumers to boycott Singaporean brands have been circulating online, especially on Facebook and Twitter. 

The graphics said Singapore is the largest investor in Myanmar, adding that the country “is not respecting the voices of the Burmese. Singapore is supporting the dictatorship”. Accompanying these statements were the image of the Singapore flag and logos of Tiger Beer, BreadTalk, Ya Kun Kaya Toast, Beauty In The Pot, Crystal Jade Kitchen, and Ippudo being crossed out. The hashtags #BoycottSingapore and #WhatsHappeningInMyanmar were also included on the graphics. MARKETING-INTERACTIVE has reached out to the brands for comment.

Meanwhile, freelance journalist Mratt Kyaw Thu also tweeted the images of Tiger Beer and Ya Kun Kaya Toast saying that these two famous Singapore brands are largely under boycott in Myanmar. His post had 5.4k retweets, 5.8k likes and 783 quote tweets. Several netizens responded to his post, saying that Myanmar needs democracy. While a handful criticised Singapore for not standing up for democracy, some others said if the brands have no connection to the military, boycotting them would only bring about bad publicity for Myanmar.

On 16 February, Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan said during a parliament sitting that it is crucial, in both good and bad times, to separate politics and business, and "let businesses make commercial decisions and investment decisions on their own merits". He added that this is a good time for Singapore to maintain that discipline.

"So no, I will not give specific advice to companies, but I will make, to the maximum extent possible, all information available in this House and beyond, so that people can make their own commercial and investment decisions," Balakrishnan added.

While Singapore is the largest foreign investor in Myanmar, with cumulative approved investments at US$24.1 billion as of December last year, Balakrishnan said the major proportion of the investments have occurred in the last five years under the National League for Democracy (NLD) government. In fact, the last five years saw "a ten-fold increase" in Singapore's direct investments in Myanmar, compared to the preceding five-year period.

"I want to stress that companies made these investment decisions on commercial grounds. They did not do so because of political influence, or political suggestion on our part. But I believe that the commercial companies saw promising opportunities in a Myanmar that was undergoing democratic transition," he explained.

According to Balakrishnan, the current volatile operating environment, including a report that a foreign national had been arrested, will certainly affect investment outlook and undermine business confidence. "Our own businessmen are aware of these downside risks, and I have no doubt that Singaporean businesses are also re-evaluating their risk profile and their exposure to this market," he said.

In Singapore, a Burmese citizen Swe Sin Tha has taken matters into her own hands by lodging a police report over two companies for allegedly supporting the Burmese military. In her Facebook post, she named Excellence Metal Casting and STE Global Trading as the two companies that "are in violation of Singapore's UN regulations". MARKETING-INTERACTIVE has obtained permission from Swe Sin Tha to quote the post.

"I have submitted a police report because the Singapore government has been known to prosecute people based on that. There is a Singaporean listed as a director for STE Global Trading, together with Tun Hlaing, director of the Myanmar Myanmar Directorate for Defence Industries," she said.

Along with the post was a copy of the police report and two supporting documents. According to Swe Sin Tha, one was proof of directorship from Singapore's Accounting & Corporate Regulatory Authority and another was an excerpt from the United Nations Security Council report linking Tun Hlaing with these two companies. 

Separately, Japanese beverage company Kirin said earlier this month that it will end its brewing JVs with connections to the Burmese military after condemning the recent coup. According to the Financial Times, while Kirin does not intend to cease operations in Myanmar, the coup makes its future there "highly uncertain". Kirin was criticised by activists in January after a six-month investigation failed to determine if proceeds from its JVs with Myanma Economic Holdings Public Company went to the military, FT added. 

Meanwhile, co-founder and director of Razer Lim Kaling said earlier this month that he will dispose of his one-third stake in a JV that owns RMH, which in turn owns 49% of Burmese cigarette maker Virginia Tobacco Company, Channel NewsAsia reported. Reason being recent events have caused him "grave concern" and he has decided to exit the investment and is "exploring options for the responsible disposal" of his stake, CNA added.

On 1 February, Aung San Suu Kyi, president Win Myint and other senior individuals from the NLD were detained in an early morning raid by the military. According to multiple media outlets, this was in response to alleged election fraud in the November 2020 election which saw NLD win by a landslide.

Shortly after, the military declared a state of emergency for a year and army chief Min Aung Hlaing took power. On 3 February, the government blocked Facebook, Messenger and WhatsApp for "the sake of stability", Reuters reported. Three days later, Twitter and Instagram were blocked and the military junta ordered a blackout of the entire Internet. Protests have since swept Myanmar, with citizens taking to the streets in Yangon calling for Aung San Suu Kyi to be released from detention. Large rallies were also held in Myanmar's second biggest city Mandalay and the capital of Naypyitaw.

The G7 has since condemned the military coup and on 3 February China's foreign ministry also rejected the suggestion that it supported the recent coup, Reuters said. Over the past week, however, anti-coup protestors gathered outside the Chinese embassy in Yangon to accuse China of allegedly supporting the military and the coup, FT reported.