New Internationalist

Yah boo sucks!

Christophe de Margerie

I couldn't restrain a chuckle reading a frothing-at-the mouth interview given to Newsweek by Christophe de Margerie, the head honcho of the French oil giant Total. Clearly smarting at the rough ride his company gets by the likes of those protesting its piss-poor record in Burma, its environmental destruction and its obscene profits ($14 billion last year), he declares: 'They can go to hell.'

He's just returned from Iraq, where his company first struck oil in 1927, and where it now wants to reclaim its slice of the oil pie from the Americans currently hogging that particular trough. 

He clearly hasn't got time to listen to the clamor for Total to get out of Burma or at least use its leverage to influence the military regime to free Aung San Suu Kyi. Instead he expands on his benign mission: 'In Burma, I am bringing gas to Thailand. Bangkok was the world's most polluted city. They switched from oil fuel to gas. Bangkok is clean now. We are proud of being part of this.'

What this saviour doesn't mention is the millions his company makes robbing the Burmese people of their natural resources to sell on to Thailand and the cash paid to the Burmese dictatorship for the opportunity to do so. Total refuses to disclose what it pays the regime. 

But then de Margerie tends to see everything in TotalvisionTM. Here's what he had to say about those waggling their fingers about profiting at the expense of the environment: 'Making money is good for the country, if you use it to invest, to build and prepare for the future, to fight global warming[sic], to avoid price volatility through additional investment. By telling them that when we make money, it is good for the future of our industry and the planet, I think we'll solve it.' That's that sorted, then.

Clearly the Burmese question rankles, as de Margerie switches tack from being proud of Total's clean-up of Bangkok pollution courtesy of Burmese gas to displacing blame elsewhere. 'Ask the government of Thailand, which buys Burmese gas. Or ask the government of India why they have companies investing in Burma...' Wait a minute, if there was nothing wrong with investing in Burma, why point fingers at the co-accused?

And anyway, it's not as if everyone is picking on little ol' billion guzzling Total in isolation. When it comes to Burmese gas, NGOs like EarthRights International roundly criticize all parties involved. The Burma Campaign UK publishes an extensive 'dirty list' of the various companies making blood money in Burma. So if de Margerie could quit stamping his foot for a moment and actually answer the serious questions surrounding doing business with this vicious regime we might get somewhere.

See also Total out of Burma for stuff people have been doing that gets right up the Total nose.

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About the author

Dinyar Godrej a New Internationalist contributor

Dinyar Godrej has been associated with New Internationalist since 1989, but joined as an editor in 2000. His interest in human rights has led him to focus on subjects like world hunger, torture, landmines, present day slavery and healthcare. His belief in listening to people who seldom get a chance to represent themselves led to unorthodox editions on (and by) street children and people with disabilities from the Majority World. He grew up in India and remains engaged with South Asian affairs.

Dinyar wrote the original No-Nonsense Guide to Climate Change (2001) and edited Fire In The Soul (2009).

An early fascination with human creative endeavour endures. He has recently taken to throwing pots in his free time.

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