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Columbia Sports. finance weapons


Contact:  Matt Donohue (503) 786-9517, Brian Schmidt (503) 236-9776,

Portland OR:  The Burma Action Committee (BAC) accused Columbia Sportswear of
involvement in an arrangement where a percentage of the profits from the
manufacture of its clothing in Burma is directed to weapons purchases by the
country's dictatorship. BAC said Columbia contracts manufacturing to Myanmar
Segye International, a joint venture between South Korea's Segye and the
Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (Umeh). Umeh is owned members of Burma's
army and 40% owned by the Defense Ministry Department of Procurement for the
State Law and Order Restoration Council, the governing body of Burma's
dictatorship, considered by many experts to be one of the most repressive in
the world.

"Go ahead and call it Columbia-gate," said Brian Schmidt of the BAC. "The
connection between Columbia and support for Burma's dictatorship is now
clear. This is only the worst violation of any possible business ethic.
Anyone can verify this information with a single reference to published
information and a phone call to Columbia. The most important question now is
not what did Columbia know and when did they know it, but whether they are
going to act responsibly now that the information is public and get out of

Schmidt described how the arrangement was established where sales of
Columbia's clothing finance Burma's weapons. "A Korean multinational
corporation, Segeye, decided to invest in Burma and establish a textile
manufacturing presence in Burma. To do so it established a new corporation
that is a joint venture between Segeye and a Burmese corporation, the Union
of Myanmar Economic Holdings (Umeh). Umeh holds between 40 and 50% of the
ownership of the joint venture, 40% being the figure released by Columbia.
Columbia Sportswear has since contracted with the joint venture to
manufacture portion of its outdoor clothing line. This arrangement, however,
falsely pretends that Umeh is an independent corporation. Umeh was set up in
1990 by the army to control foreign investment in the country. Current and
retired military personnel run Umeh, and a 40% share of the company is owned
by the Department of Procurement, which buys weapons for the Defence
Ministry. The information about Umeh is publicly known and was last mentioned
in the January 18 Far Eastern Economic Review."

"The money trail is simple to follow. The consumer buys clothing from
Columbia, and Columbia uses the consumer's money to pay the joint venture in
Burma that made the clothing. Of the profits that the joint venture makes
from the consumer's money and distributes  73 to its owners, at least 40%
goes to Umeh, and 40% of that money from the consumer goes to buy weapons."

Schmidt concluded, "The consumer can look at a Columbia Sportswear display
and know that one-sixth of the profits that are distributed in Burma are
funnelled directly to weapons for a regime that is one of the most repressive
on the planet. Activists around the country are not asking Columbia to shut
down its entire operations, but just to stop providing direct support for
dictators. The outdoor clothing Columbia is really making in Burma is body

Burma is a Southeast Asian country whose prosperous post-World War  II
democracy was ended by a coup in 1962. Decades of economic mismanagement and
oppression were challenged by a student-led uprising in 1988, which was put
down with thousands of deaths and by closing universities for four years.
After the uprising Burma's dictators renamed themselves the State Law and
Order Restoration Council (SLORC) and imprisoned opposition leader Aung San
Suu Kyi without charge from 1989 to 1995. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in
1991. SLORC allowed an election in 1990 but refused to hand over power when
Suu Kyi's party won 80% of the seats. Wide-scale forced labor, oppression of
human rights and political activity, targeting of minority ethnic groups and
religions, devastation to the environment, and government complicity in
heroin trafficking which supplies most of the heroin in America, are all
among the charges placed on Burma's military by activist groups, US Congress,
and the US State Department.

Burma Action Committee (formerly the Pepsi-Burma Boycott Committee) is a
Portland-based grass-roots organization supporting a boycott of companies
investing in Burma. It emphasizes consumer activism and education, supports
campus groups, and promotes local and national legislation that call for
divestment from Burma.

BAC's address is PO Box 1926, Portland OR, 97207. Columbia Sportswear's
address is 6600 N. Baltimore, Portland OR 97203, (503) 286-3676.