Woodside chief executive Peter Coleman has sympathised with generals who "weren't being heard" and staged a coup in Myanmar where Woodside is exploring for gas. The company has subsequently declined to say the military's move was wrong.
Woodside has operated in Myanmar since 2012, where it is one of the largest holders of offshore acreage. Three drilling campaigns have all discovered gas, and a fourth campaign is underway.
In 2015 the National League for Democracy led by Aung San Suu Kyi resoundingly won an election held after many years of military rule. She repeated the feat in November 2020, defeating the army-backed opposition.
On February 1, the military staged a coup before Parliament could sit and make the election result official by appointing a government. The military has detained Aung San Suu Kyi and other prominent leaders.
"It's very early days in the coup; the military has committed to free and fair elections in 12 months," Coleman said to Energy News Bulletin in an interview yesterday after presenting the gas company's 2020 results.
"It's not up to us to judge the veracity of grievances they have around the previous election process," Coleman told Energy News Bulletin.
"I understand they've put together quite an extensive folder of grievances around the election that they wanted to be heard, and they weren't being heard.
"They were pushed up against a difficult decision point; the day of the coup was the day the new parliament was due to proceed."
The Woodside Human Rights Policy states that "Woodside conducts business in a way that respects the human rights of all people, including our employees, the communities in which we are active."
Boiling Cold asked Woodside one question: does the company's chief executive regard the military coup as unacceptable?
A Woodside spokesperson said the Australian Government was a long-standing supporter of democracy in Myanmar and had requested the military to respect the rule of law and resolve disputes through lawful mechanisms.
However, the Woodside spokesperson did not say whether Coleman or Woodside supported Myanmar democracy as the Australian Government does.
"While operating in Myanmar, Woodside has aimed to be a constructive foreign investor," the company spokesperson said.
"This includes investing in education, training and capability-building as well as local content, using Myanmar goods and services where we can.
"We continue to monitor the evolving situation regarding the Myanmar Government, including any guidance from the United Nations and the Australian Government on economic engagement in Myanmar.
"In the ongoing development of Myanmar, economic stability and energy supply can play an important role."
The company has plans to protect its workers if tensions escalate.
Main image: Woodside chief executive Peter Coleman. Source: Woodside Energy Limited.