Friday, September 28, 2007

Who's doing business in Burma?

"Please use your liberty to promote ours"

Aung San Suu Kyi - Burmese leader whom the military placed under house arrest after her party won elections.

THOUSANDS have taken to the streets and defied the military in what its rulers and the UN call "Myanmar", but oppositionists and the rest of us still call Burma. Many people awakening to the issue around the world will readily identify with the Burmese people's struggle against poverty oppression, not because George W.Bush and Gordon Brown chose to focus away from their problems in the Middle East, but in spite of them.

Since the Burmese military seized power it has crushed opposition, locked up popular leaders, repressed trade union activity and driven thousands of Burmese people out as refugees across the borders. Village women have been press-ganged into serving as porters and rape objects for the soldiers. Peasants have been forced into slave labour on military-backed projects. Burma is rich in resources, but ordinary Burmese find it increasingly hard to afford essentials, while their country is among the world's 15 top military spenders, and its generals enjoy royal luxury.

Not since the Second World War, when it was fought over by British and Japanese imperialism, each enlisting local allies, has Burma been threatened or invaded by anyone. So what is its military spending for, except to repress the people and enrich the arms dealers and generals?

Who are the military regime's accomplices? The United States and European Union have both condemned the regime and adopted sanctions policies. 'Myanmar' has close relations with neighboring India and China with several Indian and Chinese companies operating in the country, and these governments have reportedly resisted further action. But sanctions or not (and we don't know whether these really hit the military or ordinary people, as we saw with Iraq), big Western companies have evidently found Burma's wealth too much of an attraction to care about its slavery, or let sanctions worry them.

And who do we find near the front of the queue - why it's our American friends from Chevron!

The French oil company Total SA is able to operate the Yadana natural gas pipeline from Myanmar to Thailand despite the European Union's sanctions on Myanmar. Total is currently the subject of a lawsuit in French and Belgian courts for the condoning and use of Burman civilian slavery to construct the named pipeline. Experts say that the human rights abuses along the gas pipeline are the direct responsibility of Total S.A. and its American partner Chevron with aid and implementation by the Tatmadaw. Prior to its acquisition by Chevron, Unocal settled a similar human rights lawsuit for a reported multi-million dollar amount.

The Burma campaign in the UK has drawn attention to the activities of these companies and it has also together with Amnesty International, reported how the regime continued to receive arms for repression, in spite of official sanctions.

The campaign has published a list of companies involved in Burma.

These include British companies, as the BBC reports:

Burma List 'shames' UK companies
Rolls-Royce and Lloyd's of London are among 37 global companies which have been added to the Burma Campaign's annual 'Dirty List'.
The revised list of 95 contains companies which the Burma Campaign claims directly or indirectly help finance Burma's military dictatorship. The Campaign describes the regime as one of the most brutal in the world. Firms including BAT, P&O, WPP, PwC and Ernst & Young have pulled out of Burma in the past year following pressure.

'Minimal' business
According to the Campaign, Rolls-Royce has a contract to supply and service aircraft engines for at least one Burmese airline. "We believe foreign policy is a matter for government, not companies," a spokesman for Rolls Royce said.
"Policy is set through export licensing regulations, and we adhere to those. If we were denied an export licence, we would not trade," he added.

The Campaign claims that Lloyd's of London provides insurance and reinsurance services through its members to companies investing in Burma.
It also insures Burmese companies such as Yangon Airways by working through regime-owned insurers. A spokesperson for Lloyd's of London said that Lloyd's did a "minimal amount" of business in Burma and that it always complied with international sanctions and international regulatory requirements.

Travel ban
Travel firm Abercrombie & Kent (A&K) was listed for continuing to offer tours to the region. A spokesperson for the company said that the UK branch no longer includes Burma in its list of holiday destinations. However, the US branch of A&K has several tours to Burma in its 2004-2005 brochure, according to the Dirty List.

The Burma campaign was founded in 1991 with the aim of establishing the restoration of human rights and democracy in Burma.
Story from BBC NEWS:

People are showing their solidarity with the Burmese people around the world. In London demonstrations are taking place every lunchtime outside the Myanmar Embassy. The TUC is asking trade unionists to join the pro-democracy group today from 12 noon to 1pm.
Embassy of the Union of Myanmar
Nearest tube: Green Park

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At 12:42 PM, Blogger Karl-Marx-Straße said...

THOUSANDS have taken to the streets and defied the military in what its rulers and the UN call "Myanmar", but oppositionists and the rest of us still call Burma.

I've read what the Wikipedia entry says on this (basically the same), and I always thought this was the case. But an interview I read yesterday stated this:

"Q: Pictures are reaching us daily of monks protesting in Rangun. Are they demonstating in Myanmar, Burma, or Birma?

A: In Mynamar - as that is the name of the country, as proven by written records for the past 1000 years. "Burma" or "Birma" comes from the slang variant of "Mynamar" "Bamar" and became the name of the country during colonialism. The use of Mynamar or Burma/Birma is often interpreted as signifying support for the government or the opposition respectively. I consider this politisation of the name of the country to be wrong".

It was a long interview and quite interesting with regard to the background to the protests - the interview was with Dr. Uta Gärtner, a "Myanmarist" (roughly "expert in Myanmar/Burmese Studies") until May 2007 employed in the Institure of Asian and African Sciences at the Humboldt University, Berlin.

In German:


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