PHNOM PENH (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Caterpillar, Volvo and Komatsu contribute to abuses in Myanmar by selling machinery used by domestic mining companies implicated in land expropriation, environmental destruction and armed conflict, according to a report published on Wednesday.
The three companies “appear to be the dominant brands” represented in the Hpakant jade mines in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state, according to Swedwatch, a Stockhom-based charity.
The research suggested thousands of people had lost their land in the past 15 years, while hundreds may have died each year in landslides and flooding linked to the mines.
“Since the early 2000s, the dramatically increased use of heavy machinery in Myanmar has enabled the extraction of minerals at an unprecedented speed,” said Swedwatch.
Myanmar is a major gemstone producer and the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi pledged to tighten controls after a landslide in a jade mine killed more than 100 people in 2015 in Kachin state.
But mining continues apace, and at least 14 people were killed when a slag heap collapsed last month.
Interviewees from Hpakant and the surrounding area told Swedwatch that, as mining ramped up, their land had been illegally confiscated, or they had been pressured to sell.
Hundreds of families lost their farmland, while water sources have become polluted, according to the report.
Volvo, a Swedish company, told Swedwatch it had probed its Myanmar dealer in relation to corruption.
“It is our opinion that we do not in any way contribute to any human rights abuses in Myanmar, which is suggested in Swedwatch’s conclusions,” spokesman Joakim Kenndal told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“We cannot as a company secure that all our products on a worldwide basis, during their entire life cycle and through a multitude of users, do not end up in situations where there could be a risk for human rights abuses.”
Caterpillar, a United States company that is the largest machinery brand globally, said it had no further comment other than that included in Swedwatch’s report.
Caterpillar’s response to Swedwatch cited its code of conduct, which pledges to “promote the health, welfare and economic stability of communities”, while conducting business “in a manner that promotes human rights”.
A spokesman for the company did not respond to questions about how Caterpillar’s sales of mining equipment in Myanmar may contravene its code of conduct.
Komatsu declined to answer questions and cited comments included in the report. The Japanese company told Swedwatch it had considered conducting a rights assessment for Myanmar, but had not yet done so.
Komatsu said it refrains from further sales to companies responsible for “adverse human rights impacts,” but it had not received such reports from Myanmar.
Myanmar’s jade production was worth $31 billion in 2014, and up to $122 billion over the previous decade, according to human rights charity Global Witness.
Swedwatch said thousands of machines manufactured by the companies are likely to be active in Hpakant, a flashpoint for fighting between government forces and the Kachin Independence Army.
The conflict has uprooted more than 100,000 people from their homes since 2011, Swedwatch said.