Making a Killing in Burma
Free Burma Coalition
(Note: Unocal sold its "76" gas stations
and gasoline refineries to Tosco Oil Company in 1997, thereby
ending the boycott of "76" gas stations.)
The Unocal Oil Corporation is involved in a natural gas venture
with one of the world's most brutal and repressive military regimes,
Burma's State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). SLORC
has received the strongest condemnations from the US Congress,
the US State Department, the European Parliament, the United Nations
Human Rights Commission, the International Labor Organization,
Amnesty International, and ten Nobel Peace Laureates. Foreign
oil corporations provide one of the largest sources of revenue
to the SLORC regime, helping them keep their reign of terror.
THE DEADLY DEAL In February 1995, Unocal signed a contract
with SLORC to extract and transport natural gas using a pipeline
from the Yadana Field located 43 miles off Burma's coast. The
field is estimated to have six trillion cubic feet of gas with
a market value of $6.5 billion. Daily gas production levels are
estimated at 650 million cubic feet. Unocal is a 28.26% shareholder
in this project. Its other project partners include Total of France
with 31.24%, the Petroleum Authority of Thailand with 25.5%, and
the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) with 15%. Unocal's current
net share of payments to SLORC to gain the concession is about
$10 million. Unocal and its partners will get $400 million annually
from Thailand for the gas.
THE PIPELINE KILLING FIELD The gas pipeline will run undersea
for 218 miles, and 41 miles across southern Burma's Tenasserim
division to Thailand. A second consortium of Unocal, Mitsui of
Japan and Total have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with
SLORC to be the joint venture partners in the "Three-In One"
project. This project consists of building an offshoot pipeline
to Rangoon-- connecting it to a power plant--and building a power
plant and urea fertilizer plant near Rangoon. The gas pipeline
will go through a variety of ecosystems including dense tropical
forest, disrupting the habitat of rare animals such as tigers,
rhinos and elephants. The pipeline area is inhabited by the Karen,
Mon and Tavoy peoples who have partial control of the region.
This venture is currently linked to forced village relocation,
the forced labor of tens of thousands of local inhabitants, and
fatalities at the hands of the SLORC troops. This entire region
is a war zone due to the ethnic peoples' need to defend themselves
against SLORC attacks, making the region highly unstable.
HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES
Pillaging, Torture and Rape The Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG)
and the Human Rights Foundation of Monland both monitor and report
on human right violations in the Karen and Mon areas of Burma.
Both groups have collected the testimony of hundreds of Karen
and Mon villagers, exposing a litany of heinous acts by SLORC
troops linked to the construction of ancillary pipeline infrastructure.
Local people tell of those too sick to work being beaten and tortured,
forced portering (carrying supplies), looting of homes and food
supplies, rape, and even murder for resisting orders. Despite
these human rights abuses, Unocal denies any responsibility and
refuses to appoint an independent investigation team to confirm
Forced Relocation and Infiltration of Military Battalions
Since 1991, at least 12 Karen and Mon villages were moved by SLORC
to make way for battalion stations and Unocal/Total's field headquarters.
In 1995, at least 12 Light Infantry Battalions (LIB) conducted
major military offenses in an attempt to secure the eastern half
of the route. Each battalion contains 300-500 soldiers. Eight
battalions are located near one village alone which houses many
of the oil company workers. Villagers whose land was taken or
whose entire town was relocated were never compensated.
Forced Labor Because the area contains few roads suitable
for large trucks and heavy traffic, the SLORC began building and
improving roads and railways using the labor of unpaid villagers.
SLORC troops invade peaceful villages demanding men, women and
children to work for at least two week shifts. These people are
taken from their homes, ordered to bring their own food, clothing
and blankets, and brought to road and railway construction sites
where they live in unsanitary conditions with little food, clean
water and no medical treatment. Families that fail to provide
workers are fined, often the equivalent of their yearly income.
Men and women are forced to break rocks and carry dirt to build
railways, trenches, and roads for the pipeline security forces,
and made to cut trees for lumber to build military bases. As a
result people are dying of beatings, malnutrition, sickness and
starvation. Some of the most extensive forced labor and abuses
occur at the Ye-Tavoy railway, where over 100,000 people have
been forced to work. It is widely thought that this railway will
be used to bring equipment and more troops to the area. Unocal
claims they will not use the railway for the pipeline development,
but they do not deny that SLORC battalions will use the railway,
with whom Unocal has contracted to provide security for the pipeline.
In April 1996, the KHRG proclaimed that forced labor is occurring
on the pipeline construction. Villagers are taken by SLORC troops
to build "pipeline roads," which run alongside the pipe.
The troops tell the people they will be paid, but this rarely
happens. Villagers are not only forced to work with no compensation
they are also forced to pay "fees" described as "porter
fees", "development funds", "railway and pipeline
fees" to every military camp. Reprecht von Arnim, United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Thailand, stated in
the Asian Wall Street Journal, "... I know slave labor has
been used for other purposes, and once the gas pipeline is to
start, it is most likely that it will be done the same way."
Violence directly related to the pipeline development In reference
to threats by the Karen and Mon armies, who are trying to protect
their people, Unocal president John Imle said: "If you threaten
the pipeline, there's going to be more military. If forced labor
goes hand in glove with military, yes, there will be more forced
labor. For every threat to the pipeline there will be a reaction."
According to the KHRG, on February 2, 1996 an unknown armed group
using rocket launchers attacked near Total's field office, killing
four people. In retaliation, SLORC battalion LIB 403 executed
eleven Karen civilians. SLORC accused the villagers of supporting
the attackers. Other villagers were told by the battalion that
they would come back and kill more people if Total was informed
of the retribution. Unocal continues to deny its connection to
these types of summary executions and human rights violations,
and maintains there will be only benefits for the local people.
Company Claims: Insult to Injury The corporations boast that
the project will bring employment, education and training, health
care and useful technology for thousands of people. Unocal in
consultation with Total claims to be implementing projects such
as free medical services, agriculture assistance, and to be paying
fair wages for pipeline work. The KHRG reports that sometimes
the oil companies give wage money for the villagers to SLORC commanders
who pocket the money. In very few cases the villagers are paid
directly by the oil companies. The minuscule amount of assistance
by the oil companies pales when compared to the amount of strife
affecting the Mon, Karen and Tavoy people due to the endless cycle
of military-induced abuses in the area. The Karen, Mon and Tavoyans
are seeking refuge in Thailand because of the forced labor and
other SLORC brutalities. This transient and impoverished lifestyle
is preferred over that of one where SLORC poses a constant danger.
There is little the oil companies can give to compensate for or
replace the livelihood the local people once had.
Environmental Ruin Exploration, development and production
of natural gas has similar risks as oil extraction activities.
Impacts from gas exploitation include dumping toxic drilling muds,
(including radioactive materials), air pollution from drilling
rigs, and toxic chemical releases such as hydrogen sulfide into
the sea and air. The ecology of the pipeline area is very diverse
ranging from coastal wetlands to mountainous dense tropical forest--one
of the last in Burma. Just south of the pipeline area, also in
the Tenassarim watershed, the Karen have established a protected
wildlife sanctuary which contains tigers, rhinoceros, elephants
and other rare species. Unocal and Total have not publicly released
any environmental assessment study. Projected environmental impacts
from the pipeline include destruction to wetlands and mangrove
ecosystems, forest clearing, fragmentation of habitat and disruption
of biological corridors, establishment of logging concessions,
and increased poaching of endangered species.
Burma's Struggle for Democracy In the late 1980s a growing
democracy movement gained widespread support from the entire spectrum
of Burmese society, including its diverse ethnic nationalities.
People took to the streets to demonstrate for democracy, but the
military retaliated in the summer of 1988 by gunning down thousands
of civilians. Soon afterward the military announced that the State
Law and Order Restoration Council would rule the country. Years
of ruthless and violent repression against all citizens have been
the result. On May 27, 1990, SLORC held elections and the National
League for Democracy (NLD) gained 80% of the seats. SLORC nullified
the election results and placed NLD leaders under arrest, including
leader Aung San Suu Kyi. In 1991, Aung San Suu Kyi won the Nobel
Peace Prize, but remained a prisoner under house arrest until
her release in July of 1995. Despite Ms. Suu Kyi's release, which
many hoped would spark an improvement in human rights standards,
widespread political repression, human rights abuses, abject poverty,
forced labor, and summary executions continue unabated.
The Ethics and Economics of Investing in Burma SLORC has made
the economy a shambles, strengthened its civil war against the
ethnic nationalities, and turned Burma into a United Nations "Least
Developed Country (LDC). SLORC rapaciously exploits natural resources
and sells them to foreign interests, which keeps the regime propped
up and further impoverishes the ethnic nationalities. Most foreign
revenue is derived from natural gas and oil reserves. Investment
and business ethics analysts argue that doing business with SLORC
surpasses the threshold of ethical business guidelines. According
to Richard DeGeorge, director of the International Center for
Ethics in Business at the University of Kansas, "One of the
guidelines I would put out is that a company should not knowingly
cooperate with any supplier, government or other enterprise that
engages in slavery, slave labor, or even child labor. Saying,
'We know they're doing it, but we're not doing it', doesn't let
you off the hook. If you know it's being done, you're ethically
responsible for it. It's your responsibility to mitigate the harm
they're doing to those people. They can't simply be ignored".
Many economists believe that investment in Burma is just bad business.
Recent reports by the International Monetary Fund and the World
Bank cited in April 6, 1996 The Economist , conclude that neither
Burma's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) nor its agricultural output
have reached the previous levels of the mid-1980s, and that unless
the Kyat (the Burmese currency) is greatly adjusted the economy
will remain poor.
North American Companies Withdraw from Burma Not all companies
choose to remain in the dark about SLORC's abuses. Liz Claiborne,
Macy's, Eddie Bauer, Reebok, Levi-Strauss, Amoco and Petro-Canada
have all withdrawn their operations. Levi-Strauss pulled out in
1992, stating, "...under current circumstances, it is not
possible to do business in Myanmar without directly supporting
the military government and its pervasive violations of human
rights." Unocal's slogan is "We Get It." While
this may be true when it comes to bathrooms at gas stations, they
clearly don't "Get It" when it comes to human rights
Burma: The South Africa of the 90s During a 1993 visit to
Thailand with six other Nobel Laureates to call for the release
of Aung San Suu Kyi, Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, "International
pressure can change the situation in Burma. Tough sanctions, not
'constructive engagement', finally brought the release of Nelson
Mandela and the dawn of a new era in my country. This is the language
that must be spoken with tyrants--for sadly, this the only language
they understand." "These people are hurrying in to make
cosy business deals while pretending that nothing is wrong,"
Aung San Suu Kyi told The Times Magazine. "They need to be
reminded that this is one of the most brutal military regimes
in the world and putting money into the country now is simply
supporting a system that is severely harmful to the people of
Burma." The exile National Coalition Government of the Union
of Burma elected in 1990 and many of the ethnic nationalities
have called upon the world community to impose economic and arms
sanctions against SLORC. In support of Burma's democracy movement,
we call on Unocal/Total to withdraw their shares in the gas pipeline
project. We ask that all corporations not engage in any business
in Burma until a democratic government is in place. Foreign revenue
only lines the pockets of SLORC officials and helps keep the brutal
regime in power.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Write or call the CEOs of Unocal and Total. Tell them to withdraw
from Burma Don't invest in Unocal or Total stock, or sell your
stock and tell them why
Send $5.00 for our activist's packet to become more involved.
Join the Free Burma Coalition, call: 608-256-6572 or http://www.freeburmacoalition.org
Help support our effort by donating funds to IRN's Burma Project.
Send letters to:
Roger Beach, CEO
2141 Rosecrans Blvd., Suite 4000
El Segundo, CA 90245