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The Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business (MCRB), in partnership with its founders the Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB) and Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR), is undertaking a series of Sector Wide Impact Assessments (SWIA) on selected industry sectors.

SWIA is based on both desk-based and field-based research in locations across Myanmar that have already experienced related investment from the sector in focus. The SWIA draws on established environmental and social impact assessment methodologies, but applying a human rights lens.  SWIA highlights the actual and potential impacts of each sector and makes recommendations for government, businesses and other stakeholders on how to increase positive and reduce negative impacts.

Sectors of focus are: Oil & Gas (complete), Tourism (complete), ICT (complete), Mining (complete) and Oil Palm (ongoing).

Myanmar Oil and Gas SWIA Myanmar Tourism SWIA
Information Communication Technology (ICT) Sector-Wide Impact Assessment (SWIA) Myanmar Mining SWIA
Oil Palm Sector-Wide Impact Assessment (SWIA)

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Sector-Wide Impact Assessment (SWIA)?

A SWIA consists of detailed examinations of a specific business sector in a particular geographic context through several different levels of analysis in order to build a more complete picture of the potential impacts of the sector on society and its enjoyment of human rights. A sectoral view will help stakeholders see the “bigger picture” of potential negative impacts of a sector’s activities, as well as potential opportunities for positive human rights outcomes, and to make choices based on a broader perspective.

A SWIA is carried out according to a set of widely accepted impact assessment steps (see below). The process involves both desk-based and field research.

The original methodology for SWIA was developed by the Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB) and the Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR), as part of the programme of work of the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business, which IHRB and DIHR jointly founded.

How Does a SWIA Relate to Other Impact Assessments?

A SWIA differs from project-level impact assessments in a number of ways. It:

  • Addresses multiple levels of analysis: An SWIA looks at the impacts of the sector through three levels of analysis: sector, project and cumulative levels.
  • Aims to shape policy, law and projects: A SWIA looks at the national context, national frameworks, legal contracts (where available) and business practices, and identify what actions will help advance or impede better human rights outcomes for the sector. The findings inform the analysis and recommendations at the core of each SWIA for a range of audiences.
  • Contributes to project-level ESIA/HRIA: A project-level environmental impact assessment (EIA), social impact assessment (SIA) or an environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) is typically carried out by or for a project developer to fulfil a regulatory requirement as a step in gaining permission to operate. A SWIA does not replace the need for project-level ESIA where required or desirable. A SWIA does not purport to set out a baseline of conditions at the project level; this is a task for an operator’s project-level ESIA.  Nor would a SWIA substitute for a project-level HRIA where a company determines they are needed. Instead, a SWIA helps inform project level assessments by providing an indication of the kinds of human rights impacts that have arisen in the past in the sector. This helps to forecast what future impacts may be and can be useful in the scoping stage of a project-level ESIA.
  • Involves far more extensive field research: Because a SWIA looks at an entire business sector, fieldwork is far more geographically widespread than would be the case around a specific site for project-level ESIA. It involves fieldwork in areas of particular relevance to each sector throughout the country.
  • Takes a broad view of human rights impacts: As HRIA methodology evolves, there has been an accompanying discussion about what distinguishes human rights impacts from other types of social impacts in particular. A SWIA takes a broad view of what constitutes a human rights impact, as there are a wide variety of actions that can ultimately result in human rights impacts if not managed. Ultimately such assessments are intended to support an approach to responsible business conduct in the country, which will require addressing all these issues.
  • Takes a practical view on different types of impact assessments: As noted, in sectors where ESIAs are often a routine requirement, there have been discussions on what distinguishes an SIA from an HRIA, potentially diverting attention from getting on with the process of assessing and addressing potential impacts. The approach taken in a SWIA is that the labels that are given to the process are less important than getting the process and the content covered in a manner that is compatible with human rights principles and standards. That is dependent on on the quality of the ESIA/SIA. A good quality ESIA/SIA will address many human rights issues but may not pay sufficient attention to all areas, such as civil and political rights or considering risks to human rights defenders.
  • Serves as a public resource: Company-led HRIA are typically confidential, and ESIA may be so as well unless disclosure is required. The whole rationale behind SWIAs is to make the outcomes of the analysis a public good for the purpose of informing and thereby improving practices and outcomes of business investment.
  • Describes the situation for the sector at a moment in time: A SWIA does not purport to set out a baseline of conditions at the project level; this is a task for an operator’s project-level ESIA.

  • Involves far more extensive field research: Because a SWIA looks at an entire business sector, fieldwork is far more geographically widespread than would be the case around a specific site for project-level ESIA. It involves fieldwork in areas of particular relevance to each sector throughout the country.

What is the Typical Process and Timeframe of a SWIA?

SWIA are carried out according to a set of widely-accepted impact assessment steps:

Impact Assessment Steps

I. Scoping of the Sector

  • Develop foundational knowledge base to target field research for validation and deepening of data.

Months 1-4

II. Identification and Assessment of Impacts

  • Validate foundational knowledge base with primary data collected through field research from targeted locations across the country of focus.

Months 5-6

III. Mitigation and Impact Management

  • Identify measures that will help avoid, minimise, mitigate potential impacts of the sector.

 Months 6-9

IV. Preparation of the SWIA report

  • Present findings of desk and field research, consultations and recommendations.

 Months 8-11

V. Consultation on draft SWIA and Finalisation

  • Present SWIA findings and conclusions, as well as recommendations, to be validated through consultations with representatives of government, companies operating/planning to operate in the country, and representatives of civil society organisations, trade unions, international organisations, donor governments.

Months 12-14

What Type of Analysis Will be Included in a SWIA?

Because it focus on impacts of an entire sector, a SWIA involves assessing actual and potential impacts at several levels. MCRB has developed tools and approaches for analysing these different levels of potential impact:

  • Sector / Aggregate-level: These are broader, country-wide impacts – positive and negative – including as a result of the specific collective actions of companies in the sector. A SWIA seeks to address the root cause of potential negative impacts. They therefore also include an analysis of the relevant policy and legal frameworks that help shape business conduct, and the national context that businesses and civil society need to address in order to achieve more responsible business conduct. SWIA processes also draw out recommendations on opportunities to improve human rights outcomes at the sectoral level.

  • Cumulative-level: Numerous companies operating in the same area may create cumulative impacts on surrounding society and the environment that are different and distinct from the impacts of any single company or project. Managing those impacts typically requires company–government cooperation or at least company–company cooperation. A SWIA identifies potential areas or activities that may lead to cumulative impacts and identify options for collective action to address these for the region.

  • Project-level: A SWIA analyses a range of projects undertaken by the business sector in a specific country. In countries where projects do not yet exist, a SWIA looks at the experience of communities and workers with similar types of projects. The findings will represent “typical” project level impacts, recognising that impacts are often very context-specific and importantly can be shaped by (good and bad) company practices. This helps inform a project level assessment, as it gives an indication of the kinds of human rights impacts that have arisen in the past in the sector concerned. This helps to forecast what future impacts may be. In addition to looking at potential negative impacts from projects in the sector, a SWIA also catalogues positive impacts and good practices observed in the country during desk and field research.


Who Are the Audiences for a SWIA?

  • GOVERNMENT: As governments and parliamentarians develop sectoral policies and laws, they will be making choices about the future direction of the country, balancing potential negative and positive impacts. Given that every business sectors may have some adverse impact on society and human rights, a SWIA will seek to provide analysis that helps public authorities in setting policy and developing legislation or licensing in ways that prevent and mitigate harms and enhance positive outcomes. History has shown that too often governments’ decisions are made based on overall economic growth potential alone, on economic priorities that fail to account for social costs, and a desire to model other countries. Adequate attention to longer-term impacts on human rights can determine whether growth is equitable, reduces poverty and enhances overall well being and prosperity for the broader population. A SWIA also provide independent analysis of policies and legislation that can create the conditions for negative or positive impacts on people and as such act as “impact drivers”.

  • BUSINESS: Companies will benefit from a SWIA because they will better understand the overall potential impact of their sector and their project(s) on the country. SWIA also provides a strategic review of the broader policy and legal frameworks relevant to their sector and an in-depth look at the potential social and human rights dimensions of typical operations. This provides a preview of factors contributing to a sectoral “social licence to operate” and a better understanding of potential human rights impacts at the project level. Businesses will be able to build on the significant information gathering and analysis already done in each SWIA in order to better inform their own impact assessments and thus may be more inclined to incorporate attention to human rights issues in their investments and operations.

  • LOCAL COMMUNITIES, WORKERS AND TRADE UNIONS: Local communities and workers are often most directly impacted by projects, but may not have the capacity to engage with investors, companies and local authorities, and call on international standards to support their case. A SWIA is intended to support them in doing this.

  • CIVIL SOCIETY, AND THE MEDIA: NGOs challenging specific projects, and media increasingly covering project impacts on workers, communities and the environment may lack the capacity to look at the overall perspective or to understand the international standards that are relevant to investments in the country. A SWIA will help build civil society’s capacity to participate in policy development and project planning and to leverage international standards and approaches in their interventions. It is hoped that interested local NGOs and local media will track implementation of SWIA findings, increasing accountability in each sector moving forward.

  • DONORS: Foreign governments supporting economic development can use the SWIAs to understand better the human rights impacts of key industry sectors on the country, and align their support and policies such that human rights are better respected and protected. This can mean offering technical assistance that helps each government and incentives and disincentives for domestic and foreign businesses to make responsible choices.

What Sort of Answers Can SWIA Provide?

A SWIA will not be able to guarantee or ensure that all companies respect human rights in their operations. That requires appropriate laws and enforcement and political will on the part of governments, and commitment and operationalisation of responsible practices by businesses. What a SWIA can do is sensitise planners, decision-makers, businesses and civil society by highlighting the likely risks and impacts of their activities on workers, communities, consumers and society more generally, so that at an early stage steps can be taken to prevent or mitigate risks and amplify gains.

Where Will the SWIA be Published?

In contrast to project level impact assessments which are often not made publicly available, the SWIA is developed for widespread publication and use, with targeted recommendations for different audiences. MCRB has developed the SWIA as a public good and is therefore committed to publishing the reports on its website.

Objectives of a SWIA

  • Inform future company project-level impact assessments - companies carrying out project-level environmental and/or social impact assessments (ESIAs) can build on the findings in the SWIA to incorporate attention to human rights in their own impact assessment processes.

  • Provide governments and parliamentarians with analysis and targeted recommendations on shaping policy and legislation, licensing and other initiatives to prevent and mitigate harms in the sector covered by the SWIA and to enhance the potential for positive outcomes of operations.  

  • Enable development partners to align their support and policies with the SWIA findings and recommendations so that human rights are better respected and protected in the sector.

  • Support local communities in understanding and engaging on companies’ projects in their area in an informed way. 

  • Build the capacity of civil society, trade unions and media to better understand and participate in policy development and project planning and to leverage international standards and approaches in their advocacy and reporting.

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