New Internationalist

Corporate hogwash

Issue 411

Workers’ rights leader Maung Maung condemns the corporations doing business with the regime.

There’s no great difference between any country in the world when it comes to doing business with Burma. Look at the US – the Bush executive order is pretty good, but what is Chevron doing? The British Prime Minister and parliamentarians are very vocal, whereas they haven’t stopped trade in practice. So when the EU says: ‘Well, we have sanctions going on,’ I have to ask them: ‘Excuse me, where are they?’ Because visa bans are not sanctions. There is trade still taking place with countries from Europe. Germany has always blocked the EU position on sanctions. France has got Total there.

When, in 1998, the regime was on its knees, it was a joint venture by UNOCAL (which was taken over by Chevron) and Total that brought it back on its feet. It’s the same situation now – politically, the regime is in a bad way. But it is Chevron’s and Total’s money that is allowing them to creep along. So it’s corporate policy that is supporting the regime, and corporate policy that is hampering the governments from going after Burma on all fronts, from going after full sanctions. We are working on a bill with our supporters in America on getting Chevron out of Burma; it’s been passed by Congress. But in the Senate it hasn’t passed because some Senators are worried about Chevron having to leave Burma.

The attitude of the corporations needs to change. If they say: ‘Well, we’re just doing business,’ – no, you’re not just doing business, your business is helping the regime kill people. What the multinationals get out of Burma is really very little compared to their overall income. They say: ‘Well, we’re putting a foot in the door,’ but your foot is stepping on our necks. If we can get them to refrain from doing anything in Burma for the next three years, we would see a change in the political system which would allow the people of Burma to become ordinary human beings again.

I think consumer boycotts are a very good thing. When we went on a boycott campaign in America, PepsiCo and Levi’s withdrew right away.

We took UNOCAL to court. It’s got a budget that’s bigger than Burma’s. We started in 1996, didn’t have any money, didn’t know whether the money would come, didn’t have any lawyers. But we got them to settle with us. After nine years they shut up and admitted they were working hand-in-hand with the regime. These are very rare cases – you have to be a bit stupid to push them through. But the stupidity proved that there are still things that can be done in the world.

State-controlled Burmese media accuse Maung Maung of offences ranging from petty theft to involvement in bomb plots. He is the General Secretary of the Federation of Trade Unions – Burma (FTUB), which has been instrumental in getting Burmese workers’ rights and forced-labour issues onto the international agenda. FTUB website: www.ftub.org

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