Telenor discovered that contractors constructing its new mobile network in Myanmar have been using child labour to develop base station sites in advance of the operator's launch of commercial services in the country in September.
In a presentation on Telenor's Myanmar sustainability update, the company said it found three incidents of child labour being used in the build of sites around the country, despite having implemented strict guidelines on the use of underage labour.
Underage labour is prevalent in Myanmar and is considered in general socially acceptable. However, Telenor requested that all its partners in the country sign a Supplier Conduct Principles code stating that no one under 15 years old will be employed. The age limit is higher for tower construction sites, where a minimum age of 18 has been applied as the work is deemed potentially hazardous.
An on-site inspection of one a tower construction site in Bago identified two workers aged 17 and 17.5 years, who were later removed from site. At a site in Mandalay a tier two sub contractor reported three children--two aged 12 and one aged 13 years--doing excavation work for a tier three sub contractor. The children were removed from the site. Also in Mandalay, an on-site inspection identified a 15 year old working alongside his father who was employed by the sub-contractor. The boy had been sent to supplement the family income. He was later given a job in the company office instead.
All incidents have been followed up by investigations, Telenor stated.
Also in the sustainability update, Telenor outlined the issue of corruption in the country, which it called a "significant and real risk". Its approach internally has been to use training in Codes of Conduct and continuous communication, while for suppliers it has used contractual obligations, capacity building of suppliers, and review and participation in application submissions. The operator noted that the implications of its zero tolerance policy has meant "sometimes encountering a less speedy process".
As to ongoing conflict in Myanmar, Telenor stated that while there were bilateral ceasefire agreements with most armed ethnic groups, the country remained quite unstable. As Telenor has coverage requirements of around 90% in five years, with 30% of the customer base in the ethnic states, it is working with the Government and the ethnic groups, and is using high standards for safety.
In a webinar yesterday, Telenor officials stated that, "We realised early in our operation that each of the States have, to an extent, a self-governed structure. In order to successfully build our tower and distribution network to deliver on our commitment, we have to foster dialogue and work with both the Government as well as the both the army and armed and non-armed ethnic groups in the States. This is fundamental to reach 90 per cent within five years and is recognised by our stakeholders.
"In all conflict areas we have dialogue with all concerned parties and our State Liaison Officers engage extensively with stakeholders. We continuously carry out risk evaluations and have guidelines for how we act in these areas, and human rights due diligence is part of our Group-wide policies."
The spokesperson added: "We engage extensively with civil society in Myanmar, including dialogue with NGOs...we have also a unique and extensive Community Outreach programme which so far has engaged with 17,293 people."
Telenor will launch its first services in Myanmar's three major cities--Yangon, Mandalay, and Nay Pyi Taw.
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