Companies love to boast about how responsible, green and caring they are these days. Glossy, detailed reports are produced, vaunting each company’s ethical credentials. However, if you look beyond this faÃ§ade you’ll discover some of these companies are quietly supporting a brutal and repressive dictatorship in Burma.
Last Autumn’s brutal repression of a peaceful uprising and the deliberate obstruction of aid efforts after Cyclone Nargis left 1.7 million Burmese homeless have exposed to the world just how brutal, heartless and inhuman the Burmese regime is. This week we have exposed which companies are putting profit before principle and helping to fund the regime and help it cling on to power.
Burma is ruled by an illegitimate military dictatorship – one of the most tyrannical and secretive the modern era has seen – a regime that refuses any democratisation of the political system, that systematically violates the most fundamental human rights, and that oppresses and exploits its population. The dictatorship has such a tight grip on the economy that it is simply impossible to invest in the country without funding the repression of the population.
The view of the democracy movement
Despite this, companies continue to invest in the country. They do not do so because of an altruistic wish to help the people of Burma. They are there to make a profit, and are attracted by salaries of less than 25p a day, a compliant workforce where unions are banned, and limited health and safety laws which in any case are rarely enforced. This is why since the mid 1990s the country’s democracy movement, led by imprisoned Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has called on foreign businesses not to invest in Burma. They decided on this policy after witnessing how foreign investment doesn’t help the population, it just entrenches military rule. Foreign trade has allowed the regime to double the size of the military – which it uses to strengthen its rule of fear and campaigns of ethnic cleansing in Eastern Burma. Even as military spending has increased to around half the regime’s budget, spending on health has fallen to the lowest in the world.
The Dirty List
In defiance of the democracy movement, many companies invest regardless. Every year the Burma Campaign UK publishes a “Dirty List” of companies that are directly or indirectly helping to finance one of the most brutal regimes in the world. Due to pressure from our campaign, over 100 companies have pulled out of Burma, including Rolls Royce, British American Tobacco, PWC, Arcadia (Topshop), AON and Pepsi. On May 6th this year we will expose a number of high profile companies who have been hoping to make a quick profit off the suffering of the Burmese people. Toyota has been supplying vehicles to the military, TATA – who recently bought Land Rover and Jaguar – have been supplying a plethora of services to the regime and Qantas, through its subsidiary JetStar Asia, has been promoting tourism to the country.
The biggest European villain is the French Oil company TOTAL, it is estimated that their project in Burma generates nearly $1 billion a year for the regime. As well as funding the regime, their project is also closely associated with a litany of human rights abuses, including forced labour, torture and rape. TOTAL do everything they can to keep their investment in Burma out of the limelight. During the Autumn 2007 uprising, the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, asked TOTAL not to make any further investments in Burma. The company quickly complied, stating publicly on October 6th 2007 that “investing in the country would be a provocation”. However, even as it was making this statement TOTAL was finalising plans for a new investment, which was completed just two months later in December.
For too long companies such as TOTAL, Toyota and TATA, have got away with putting profits before human rights. By doing so they have condemned Burma’s 50 million people to a lifetime of repression and fear. In this new era of corporate responsibility we must hold these companies to account and help end the suffering of the Burmese people.
The full list of companies that we know are supporting the regime in Burma is available online at http://www.burmacampaign.org.uk/dirty_list/dirty_list.php
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This post was written by Johnny Chatterton