Carlsberg has opened an investigation into claims the brewer had ties to the military regime in Myanmar years after the Tuborg owner said it left the market.

The Denmark-based group announced in 1996 it would no longer be doing business in the country.

In April, documents leaked by non-profit Distributed Denial of Secrets claim that after Carlsberg left Myanmar, it later used a proxy company, Brewinvest, to enter a joint venture (JV) with two military-tied companies – Myanmar Economic Corporation and Myanma Golden Star – to create Dagon Beverages.

Dagon Beverages brewed and sold Skol beer in Myanmar, a brand Carlsberg still owns today.

In a statement, a Carlsberg spokesperson said: “In relation to the questions concerning the period 1997 to 2011, we take these allegations very seriously. We have therefore launched an internal investigation to uncover all facts related to that period and the actions related to Myanmar. We will come back with the conclusions of the investigation when finalised.”

Carlsberg officially re-entered Myanmar in 2012 through a new partnership with Myanmar Golden Star Group, a move that followed the dissolution of the military junta in 2011. While a civilian government was installed after a general election, the Myanmar military seized power again in 2020 in a coup d’état.

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On its current partnership in the region, the Carlsberg spokesperson said: “According to the due diligence we conducted with the assistance of an independent third party in 2021, there have been no direct commercial links to the Myanmar military or military-controlled companies since 2012 by our partner.”

Activist group Justice for Myanmar is calling on the major international brewers operating in Myanmar – Carlsberg, Heineken and ThaiBev – to cease operations and not to pay taxes nor government fees to the controlling military. It estimates the three companies are paying the military junta $155m in taxes a year.

“As a company, we are subject to local laws in all the markets we operate in,” the Carlsberg spokesperson said. “This means that, like any other company, we are obliged to pay taxes and duties, whether in Myanmar, Denmark or any other market.”

The brewer added it has a human rights programme that follows UN guidance. As such, Carlsberg said it started a series of “enhanced human rights due diligence activities” last year, which involves working with external parties and experts in human rights.

Since the military coup d’état of 2020, several food and drink producers have ceased operating in the region or sold off stakes in joint ventures. Japanese-based Kirin Holdings announced in early 2022 it was selling its stake in Myanmar Brewery – a JV that had ties to the government – at a loss of capital and assets.

This year, Nestlé said it will close its factory and head office in Myanmar. However, the company is moving to a distribution model with imports from neighbouring countries and stated: “Nestlé is not closing its Myanmar business.”