Call to shun firms trading with Myanmar

Brussels, October 24:

Trade unionists are calling for workers across the world to boycott companies that do business with Myanmar’s repressive military regime, singling out French oil firm Total SA.

Myanmar’s junta has arrested thousands people in a cra-ckdown on pro-democracy p-rotests in recent weeks, shooting dead at least 10 when tro-ops fired into crowds of peaceful demonstrators last month.

The inward-looking military elite has largely ignored world opinion and pressure during its 45 years in power but ma-kes money from allowing foreign companies such as Total to pump out some of its vast reserves of oil and natural gas.

Guy Ryder, secretary general of the International Trade Union Confederation, said he wanted to keep up the pressure on corporations that help prop up the Myanmar regime. He drew a parallel with trade union boycotts of South African goods to force changes to the apartheid system of racial segregation.

“Our intent and our ambition is indeed to mobilise trade unions nationally and public opinion to bring that type of pressure to bear,” he said. “The parallels with what we did in the apartheid era are rather persuasive.” He said the big business players had not yet addressed union demands to back away from Myanmar.

“The Totals of this world have not yet answered. We are going to pursue them,”

he said.

ITUC has just returned from a joint mission with the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) to the Myanmar-Thai border where they spoke with 13 witnesses of the political and military oppression continuing in Myanmar.

In film it shot on October 18, Myanmar national Moe Swe — a member of the Yaug Chi Oo Workers Association — alleged that Total’s gas pipelines were linked to forced labour and human rights violations.

“We want Total to withdraw from Burma,” he said. It supports the junta in buying weapons “to oppress our Burmese people and they violate the workers’ rights.” The EU on October 15 agreed to expand sanctions against Myanmar to include imports of timber, gemstones and precious metals in response to the junta’s crackdown on pro-democracy groups. It held off applying them to give UN mediators more time to sway the military leaders to start talks with pro-democracy groups.

But the EU shied away from targeting Burmese oil and gas exports or preventing European companies from operating in those sectors in Myanmar.

However, France’s foreign minister Bernard Kouchner said that new sanctions France was drafting would not spare Total, which has been producing 17.4 million cubic metres of natural gas per day from its Myanmar wells, according to the Total Web site.

Total, France’s biggest company by market capitalisation and revenue, has said it has not made any capital expenditures in Myanmar since 1998. It said any ‘forced withdrawal’ would simply clear the way for another company to step into its place.

EU sanctions against Myanmar in place since 1996 have banned arm sales to Myanmar, frozen Myanmar government assets and forbidden senior government officials from traveling to Europe.