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With its fabulous gemstones, unique forests and abundant gas and oil reserves, Myanmar, also known as Burma, should be a wealthy country. So why is it that one in four of its people lives in extreme poverty?   How can one third of Myanmar’s children suffer long term malnourishment?  Myanmar’s natural resources could be used to help drive economic development.  Instead, decades of corruption and mismanagement have diverted the benefits to a small elite, and contributed to the conflict and human rights abuses which have done so much harm to the country’s citizens.

Click image for infographic looking at who is buying up Myanmar's oil and gas

Today, the government is promising that things are finally changing for the better. Wide-scale political and economic reforms are underway, opposition leader Daw Aung San Su Kyi has gone from being under house arrest to a member of parliament and President Thein Sein has committed to greater transparency and equitable management of Myanmar’s natural resources.

Internationally, there has been keen interest in these changes. Corporate investors are moving to access Asia’s ‘ultimate frontier market’ and the country’s donors are committing to unprecedented levels of aid.

The question is: will these changes translate in to a future that Myanmar’s people deserve?

Global Witness has two programmes of work on the current opportunities for reform within Myanmar’s natural resource sectors:

  • We are undertaking research and policy analysis to shed light on Myanmar’s oil, gas and mining sectors.  Myanmar’s people should have the opportunity to see who is gaining access to their country’s most valuable assets, what deals have been made, and where benefits are going.  This is an essential prerequisite if citizens are to hold politicians, officials and companies to account.  
  • Land and resource use rights in Myanmar – individual, customary and collective – need to be fully protected in policy and practice in order for the country to avoid the ‘land grabbing’ curse of its neighbours. We are working to ensure that the private sector rush to invest in Myanmar’s agribusiness industry is fully transparent and is not fuelling poverty, deforestation or corruption. Only through pursuing equitable and sustainable investments in land and agriculture the country has a chance to harness land as a natural asset for future generations.

As in neighbouring Cambodia and Laos, rubber is one of the main commodities driving ‘land grabs’ and deforestation in Myanmar, but it hasn’t always been this way. Global Witness commissioned research to look at the history of rubber in Myanmar, how the industry is changing and who the major players are. The findings can be found here.

Global Witness’s March 2014 briefing paper ‘What Future for the Rubber Industry in Myanmar?’ sets out both practical and policy recommendations for the Myanmar government as to how ensure the rights of its farmers and the country’s  valuable forests are protected, whilst also promoting small-scale agricultural production.

Following the launch of a public consultation of Myanmar’s draft national policy, Global Witness made a formal submission in November 2014, available here. The land policy is expected to be finalised in 2015 and will form the basis for the country’s first Land Law.

For Global Witness’ past work exposing the destructive timber trade between Myanmar and China, please see here.

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