Wednesday, January 26, 2005

To Trade or Not To Trade with Burma or Myanmar

Compiler's remark:

To Trade or Not To Trade with Burma or Myanmar
by zarni

1). Burma and multinational companies: who profits and how it works
2). John Pilger denounces EU appeasement of Burma

Compiler's Remark:

I am posting two pieces on Burma - a press release by the InternationalConfederation of Trade Unions on the release of its 28-page report on why tradewith Burma - or Burmese dictators - makes no sense either morally or from thebottom-line perspective. Burma is the only country in the world which is thetarget of ICFTU's disinvestment campaign. The report is evidently meant toserve as a pro-sanctions, pro-isolation policy tool for Burma lobbyists,especially in the West.

The second piece and last piece by famed Australian documentary film maker and activist John Pilger appears in the most recent issue of the New Statesman. Pilger pieces is moralistic in tone and dramatic in its choice of words, butdated or inaccurate in its factual details. For instance, Pilger's piecemelodramatises the extent of isolation which aung san suu kyi has beensubjected to, on and off. Also it lacks any meaningful or useful geo-politicaland geo-economic context of the Burma problem.

Trade has never been fair and fairness and morality are not what primarilydrive the growth of commerce throughout history. That said, oppositionalvoices against trade - especially the exesses - are legitimate and ought to bemaintained against overzealous, greed-driven practices for profit.

But trade,in some contexts, can be liberalizing, especially in countries where theexisting economic and political practices are so underdeveloped, and soauthoritarian.But of course, the readers will reach their own conclusion as to the efficacyof isolation versus integration policies.

The politically correct and morallylaudible position on trade with Burma operates within the paradigm being that an open society can be builtin or through isolation. The call for isolating Burma's dictatorship (and by extension Burmese civilsociety) comes from well-meaning individuals.

But again we should bereminded that the road to hell is also paved with well-intentions. Communismwanted to march masses forcibly up the Loka-nirvana, or a heaven on earth (aclassless society) and ended up starving millions to death or leaving themfreeze in Siberian Gulags.

The Chinese proverb on strategy has it that sometimes it is necessary tosupport one's opponent. Who would have thought 30 years ago that thepolit-bureaus in Beijing and Hanoi would serve as primary engines of capitalistdevelopments?

In his "Burmese Days", George Orwell derided the British Empireas a system of theft or robbery. Some anti-capitalists have describedderisively global capitalism using a similar language. But rule of wealthy thieves who engage in "rent seeking" and self-aggrandizement may be preferableto no rule at all. And trade integration and growth of commerce are notprimary agents of democratization. But they may be more impactful on the society and people than direct political activism, as it were. This is a bitter pill to swallow for those of us who see ourselves as directand legitimate agents of change (in Burma), but whose vehement opposition togreater, regional and global trends that will inevitably leave their mark (forthe better) on civil society in Burma or Myanmar is becoming counter-productiveand self-defeating in our push for change.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ ONLINE...

Burma and multinational companies: who profits and how it works 25/1/2005

BRUSSELS, 25 January 2005, ICFTU Online: The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) today released a new report on business with Burma. The 28-page document, entitled "Doing Business with Burma", concentrates on investment in and trade with Burma and shows how foreign business relationships with Burma - by large and small multinational companies - generate vast profits for the country's military dictators.

The ICFTU simultaneously released an updated version of its Burma company database, which now contains the names of some 440 multinational companies, adding over 40 new names.Burma is the only country in the world for which the international trade union movement calls for disinvestment.

The newest ICFTU report on investment and trade with Burma is essentially a research overview, based onfacts and details complied from over 40 different sources (news items, reports by governments, intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations and individual researchers). It demonstrates conclusively that investing in Burma is not possible without the agreement of the junta. It also shows how the regime systematically steers business operations, especially the most profitable, towards joint ventures with state-owned companies.

The "secretive and corrupt" business environment in Burma lacks all forms of transparency, according to the report. Whether or not companies are directly owned by the military makes no real difference. Where the former are owned by the army, many of the latter are owned by high ranking military figures, in their "private capacity", or by their relatives and cronies.

Over the last 15 years the military dictatorship in Burma has moved itself into a position of virtual control over all aspects of the business sector.Figures quoted in the report indicate an overall reduction in investment in Burma over the last few years. More and more people, companies and countries are recognising that investing in or trading with Burma makes no sense - either in moral nor in business terms. Regrettably, a small number of neighbouring countries, in part because of regional power-plays, refuse to follow that trend. Business interests from China, India, Thailand and someof the other neighbouring ASEAN countries are stepping in where others are moving out.

The report provides numerous concrete examples of what the Burmese junta spends the income on, for example over 40% of its national budget goes to military expenditure. It also recalls the army's responsibility for a hostof human rights abuses, including the widespread and continuing use of forced labour. The report also highlights what the government does not do with the money, spending only 0.3% of GDP on health care.

Among the many different topics covered by the report, the ICFTU also addresses issues such as corruption, transparency, drug traffic and arbitrary taxation, as well as the junta's bogus claims that economic sanctions affect "18 million workers".

The ICFTU has also updated its list of companies with business links to Burma. This list now contains the names of around 440 multinational enterprises. The addition of new companies is the result of continuousresearch, and not an actual indicator of increased corporate interest in Burma. Some of the better known new names are China PetroChemical Corp. (Sinopec), China Telecom, Lloyd's of London, Rolls Royce and the State Bank of India.Many large multinational companies have left the country over the last few years.

However, some companies, such as South-Korea's Daewoo International, Austrian Airlines, SWIFT (Belgium), Total (France), Unocal (USA), Suzuki (Japan) or Ivanhoe Mines (Canada) still maintain their links with Burma.As a country, Burma continues to be one of the worst human and workers' rights offenders in the world.

In spite of some minor positive steps in recent years, partly the result of international pressure, very little has fundamentally changed in the way the Burmese dictators treat their citizens.

Claims of progress made by the military have been merely cosmetic, and are followed by a new wave of brutal repression. This repression includesviolence against religious and ethnic minorities, forced relocation, beatings, child labour, rape and murder. All of them continue on a daily basis. A high number of political prisoners remain in prison. Forced labour,one of the largest problems, is still routinely resorted to by the military.The database on companies linked to Burma, including specific information for each company, as well as background information on this initiative

The report on multinationals companies and ICFTU represents 148 million workers in 231 affiliated organisations in 150 countries and territories. ICFTU is also a member of Global Unions: more information, please contact the ICFTU Press Department on +32 2 2240232 or +32 476 621 018.###


John Pilger denounces EU appeasement of BurmaJohn Pilger
Monday 24th January 2005

With an eye to its vast Asian market, Europe promotes human rights when theprice is right. In Burma, crimes against humanity are allowed to continuewithout challenge.

By John Pilger

I tried to phone her the other day. I still have a number she gave me, which Icould call infrequently to exchange a few words. It was fruitless to try thistime; the hurried click at the other end was an echo of her Kafkaesqueoppression. The isolation of Aung San Suu Kyi is now complete, in the tenthyear of her detention. The last time I got through, I asked her what washappening outside her house. "Oh, the road is blocked and there are soldiersall over the street . . . for my own security, of course!"She thanked me for the books I had sent her, hand-carried through theunderground that now struggles to maintain contact. "It has been a joy to readwidely again," she said. I had sent her a collection of her favourite T SEliot, as well as Jonathan Coe's political novel What a Carve Up!, whose gentleirony must have seemed strange in jackbooted Rangoon. She told me she relishedbiographies of those who had also suffered through isolation: Mandela,Sakharov. Little has reached her since then, and it is not known if she stillhas her old Grundig shortwave radio. The regime has now removed her personalsecurity guards from her compound beside Inya Lake. Having tortured and killedher closest allies, they must believe that, if the world looks the other way,they can do the same to her."For the media, Burma is seldom fashionable," she told me. "But the importantthing to remember about a struggle like ours is that it endures, whether or notthe spotlight is on, and it can't be turned back." For one so alone, these aresalutary words; I recommend them to those who lose heart when theirparticipation in one demonstration fails to stop an invasion. Fortunately, AungSan Suu Kyi and the democracy movement she leads are supported by a tenacioussolidarity network throughout the world; and I am indebted to John Jackson andYvette Mahon of the Burma Campaign UK for never letting us forget that, if theoften debased cry of democracy means anything, its true test is Burma. In thecurrent issue of Metta, the campaign's journal, Desmond Tutu reminds us thatAung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy, won 82 percent of the parliamentary seats in Burma's 1990 election, the signal for amilitary junta to hunt, imprison, torture and murder the victors, and enslavemuch of the nation. "Suu Kyi and the people of Burma," writes Tutu, "have notcalled for a military coalition to invade their country. They have simply askedfor the maximum diplomatic and economic pressure against Burma's brutaldictators."As the public's response to the tsunami and the invasion of Iraq has shown, thefastest-growing division in the world is between people and those in powerclaiming to act morally in their name. Burma exemplifies this. Take theEuropean Union's disgusting policy. Clearly with an eye to its vast Asianmarket, the EU, promoter of "human rights" when the price is right, hasshamelessly appeased the Burmese junta. Consider what happens in Burma today.Rape is used as a weapon of the state against indigenous women and children.Forced labour is widespread, described by the UN's International LabourOrganisation as a "crime against humanity". The junta holds more than 1,350political prisoners, many of whom are routinely tortured. Up to a millionpeople have been forced from their land. Half the national budget is spent on abrutal, peacock military whose only enemy is its own people, while next tonothing is spent on health; one in ten Burmese babies dies in infancy. And thetrue leader, elected in a landslide, is incarcerated, rising at four o'clockevery morning to meditate on such an epic injustice.Meanwhile, the EU shores up the regime by increasing imports, worth roughly$4bn between 1998 and 2002. Last October, the fifth summit of the 38-stateAsia-Europe Meeting (Asem) was held in Hanoi and attended by representatives ofthe junta for the first time. Instead of announcing a boycott, the Europeansturned up and said nothing. Rather, France's president, Jacques Chirac, said hehoped stronger sanctions would not be necessary because they "will hurt thepoorest people". For "poorest people" read Total Oil Company, part-owned by theFrench government, the largest foreign investor in Burma, where the oilcompanies' infrastructure of roads and railway access has long been the subjectof allegations of forced labour. Total's euros allow the junta to re-equip itsstate of fear. "None of the EU officials I have met," says John Jackson,"denies that foreign investment and military spending in Burma are closelylinked. In the week the regime received its first payment for gas due to bepiped to Thailand from a gas field operated by Total Oil, it made a $130m downpayment on ten MiG-29 jet fighters." Jackson points to the farce of present EUsanctions. After as many as 100 of Suu Kyi's supporters were publicly beaten todeath by soldiers in 2003, the EU extended its visa ban to the junta andGermany froze no less than E86 ($112) of German-based Burmese assets.In contrast, and through direct action, the international campaign has chalkedup major disinvestments, such as Premier Oil, Heineken, PepsiCo and Bhs. Thecurrent "dirty list" of investors includes the oil companies Total and Unocal,Rolls-Royce, Lloyd's of London and so-called prestige travel companies such asBales, Road to Mandalay and Orient Express. The bestselling Lonely Planetguidebook is a fixture on the list. Lonely Planet has long made a fool ofitself by claiming, in the words of one of its writers, that Burma is "betteroff" today, and that although the junta is "abominable", "politicalimprisonment, torture" and "involuntary civilian service to the state" are notnew and "have been around for centuries".Tell that to the people of Pagan, the ancient capital, which used to have apopulation of 4,000. They were given a few weeks to leave, their homes werebulldozed, and the people were marched at gunpoint to a waterless stubble thatis a dustbowl in the summer, and runs with mud in the winter. Theirdispossession was to make way for foreign tourists. "I shall welcome touristsand investors," said Aung San Suu Kyi, "when we are free." There is anabundance of evidence that foreign tourism has benefited the regime, not theBurmese people, and that much of the tourist infrastructure was built with"involuntary civilian service" - an idiotic euphemism for bonded or outrightslave labour.Filming secretly in Burma nine years ago, I came upon what might have been atableau from Dickensian England. Near the town of Tavoy, in the south, gangs ofpeople were building a railway viaduct, guarded by soldiers. These were slavelabourers, and many were children. I watched one small girl in a long bluedress struggle to wield a hoe taller than herself, falling back exhausted, inpain, holding her shoulder. "How old are you?" I asked her. "Eleven," came thereply.Just as we should not forget the people of Fallujah and Najaf and Baghdad, andRamallah and Gaza, so we should not forget this little girl, and her people,and their leader, who ask for the most basic rights and deserve our support.Burma Action Campaign: [] or phone 020 7324 4710"TARGET="_URL"> (e-mail:[] or phone 020 7324 4710]) This article first appeared in the New Statesman. For the latest in current andcultural affairs subscribe to the New Statesman print edition.