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Full Finacial Times story on pipeli
- Subject: Full Finacial Times story on pipeli
- From: bcn@xxxxxxxxx
- Date: Thu, 25 Jan 1996 21:45:00
Subject: Full Finacial Times story on pipeline
Financial Times January 24, 1996
Burma gas pipeline rouses opposition
Oil groups distance themselves from forced labour.
Ted Bardacke reports
Burma=92s narrow southern peninsula, once a virtual no man=92s land, has=
a battleground. The construction of a $1bn 409 km pipeline to transport=20
offshore natural gas across the peninsula to Thailand, by an international=
consortium led by Total of France and Unocal of the US, has brought deaths=
in the jungle and denuciations in the west.
Last March five Total workers were killed and 11 injured by ethnic Karen=20
rebels extracting revenge for the uncompensated expulsion of villagers along=
the pipleine route. Just last month security forces guarding the pipleine=20
area came under attack again, resulting in a(t) least one death.The=20
systematic use of forced labour by Burmese military units charged with=20
protecting the pipline and its employees, and the projec=92s acute strategic=
importance to the Burmese military junta, have made the pipeline a target of=
western human rights activistst initiating consumer boycotts of companies=20
doing business in Burma. The forced labour surrounding the project is being=
trumpeted loudly by proponents of a recently introduced US bill that would=
outlaw further US investmenst in Burma.By all accounts, workers on the=20
pipleine itself are being paid, and paid well by Burmese standards, although=
kickbacks by workers to the local military officers who have some power of=
who gets hired have been woidely reported.Workers in military camps being=20
set up to secure the pipeline area are not so lucky.
=94Last May the township military officers ordered us to go to Heinze=
Two hundred of us were there for two weeks, clearing grounds, constructing a=
helicopter pad, building bamboo barracks and a wooden guesthouse. We were=
not paid... and when we left, more workers were forced to go to replace us.=
They were not paidf either,=94 says Mr Ohn Thaw, a villager from Kanbauk who=
is now a construction worker in Bangkok after escaping from Burma late last=
Previously uninhabited, the island in question is important for both=20
construction and operation of the pipeline. It is located in the shipping=20
lane through which Total will transport material and equipment to build the=
pipeline, and near the point where it emerges from the Andaman Sea on to=20
Mr Ohn Thaw and other Buremse refugees say that as well as getting no wages,=
they were forced to pay for the petrol used in the boat which took them to=
the island and were ordered to take their own food.
=93As soon as we got there, the military confiscated our food and then=20
rationed it out to us. It wasn=92t enough, only two tins of rice per day; we=
usually eat three.=94says Mr Ohn Thaw, who adds that villagers in Kanbauk=
refused to go were either fined 3,000 kyat (about a months wages) or=20
arrested and sent to zones of conflict to act as porters for the military.
Total and Unocal say no operation under their control uses forced labour.=20
Yet the security situation in the area is precarious and one Total executive=
involved in the project acknowledges that =93unless the area is pacified,=
pipleine won=92t last=94 the duration of the 30-year gas purchase agreement=
signed with the Petroleum Authority of Thailand.
Mr John Imle, president of Unocal, said laast year that =93if you threaten=
pipeline, ther=92s going to be more military. If forced labour goes hand in=
glove with the military, yes , there will be more forced labour. For every=
threat to the pipeline there will be a reaction.=94
That reaction is apparent to Mr Ohn Thaw. Forced labour shifts in the area=
around his village =FCsed to be once a year,=94he says. =93Now it=92s three=
year and the time (spent working) is double or triple what it used to be.=94
Citing these allegations among other things, this month US senators=20
introduced legislation that would ban US investments in Burma - which,=20
depending on its legal interpretations, could force Unocal to pull out of=20
the project - until an elected government has taken power in Burma and=20
international labour standards are being adhered to.
US campaigning groups, playing up instances of forced labour, have,=20
meanwhile, succeeded in several American cities in enacting legislation=20
prohibiting local government purchases from companies investing in Burma.=20
This year they will seek to push this campaign to the state level, which=20
could deny Unucal millions of dollars in state government contracts.These=20
groups are also introducing shareholder resolutions aimed at prohibiting=20
companies from carrying out operations there.
In some cases this pressure has been effective. In 1994 Hong Kong-based=20
Victoria Garments manufacturing Company, which has four factories in Burma,=
exported $32m worth of textiles to US customers such as Macy=92s, Eddie=
and Liz Clairborne. Under threat of picketing in front of stores and=20
disruption of annual meetings, these companies stopped buying clothes made=
in Burma. Victoria Garments=92US exports fell to around $10m in 1995 and=
year the company expects it will be forced to sack half it=92s 3,300 workers=
in Burma.While such redundancies in mainly hurt workers, disruptions of the=
pipeline would be disastrous for the military regime. Huge reserves of=20
natural gas exist in the Andaman Sea, and both Texaco and Arco are poised to=
begin production if Total and Unocal can show that delivering the gas to=20
energy-hungry Thailand is feasible.
Burmese officials have indicated that the hard currency they will earn from=
selling the gas may eventually allow them to devalue the kyat, th most=20
important obstacle to permanently revive the struggling Burmese economy.
On top of the revenue, some of the gas will be transported by another=20
pipeline to Rangoon, wher it will generate electricity and be used to=20
produce fertilisers, things the Burmese government desperately needs. =93The=
pipeline is a key to so many projects,=94says Mr Set Maung, economic advisor=
to the Burmese generals.
Total and Unocal have been at pains publicly to distance themselves from the=
Burmese junta. But asa the pipeline progresses, the relationship is=20
deepening, as the companies recognise that the military is the only reak=20
administrative authority in the country, according to a Total executive.
Signs of this collaboration turn up in the oddest places. At Ban I Thong,=20
where the pipeline will cross into Thailand, Burmese government troops have=
taken up strategic positions on a ridge which is nominally in Thailand. In=
the shirt pockets of a young private who has tied a bunch of bananas to his=
belt laden with hand grenades, is a ballpint sporting the logo of Total.
BCN is onafhankelijke stichting. Doel: Nederlandse samenleving informeren=20
over Burma. Het initieert en co-ordineert aktiviteiten die democratisering=
en duurzame ontwikkeling bevorderen. Het geeft een positieve bijdrage aan=20
een constructieve dialoog tussen de diverse groeperingen.
Paulus Potterstraat 20
1071 DA AMSTERDAM
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