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“If you threaten the pipeline, there’s gonna 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,” Unocal’s former President, John Imle.

Background

Burma’s oil industry is the cause of some of the worst human rights abuses in the country, in particular the Yadana pipeline. Burma’s military established a consortium of foreign oil companies to build the Yadana pipeline, a gas pipeline which goes from the undersea gas field across southern Burma and into neighbouring Thailand. The companies involved are: Unocal, a 28.26 % shareholder, Total of France with a 31.24 % share, the Petroleum Authority of Thailand (PTT) with 25.5 %, and the Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) with 15 %. MOGE is the energy ministry of Burma’s military regime.

Of the gas pipeline’s 218 miles, 41 miles cuts across southern Burma’s Tenasserim region to Thailand. The pipeline area is the homeland of the Karen, Mon and Tavoyan peoples. These ethnic minorities were under attack by the junta’s troops which were seeking to suppress rebellion and use civilians for forced labor on army projects.

To completely control the pipeline region, thousands of people were forcibly relocated and their homes and farms destroyed by the junta’s troops. Imprisoned in new settlements, these villagers were forced to work without pay constructing roads, railways, and military bases, and clearing forest along the pipeline route. Many of them were tortured, raped and murdered by the troops providing security for the pipeline.

See the No Petro$ to SLORC for more details.

Unocal Lawsuit

Unocal executives have been callous when confronted with accounts of this human rights abuse. As the quote above by Unocal’s former President, John Imle shows.

Unocal is being sued in US Federal Court in California on behalf of victims of its Burma pipeline scheme. Extensive testimony from victims of and witnesses to abuses related to the pipeline forms the basis of the lawsuit. The allegations of forced labor in this case are sufficient to constitute an allegation of participation in slave trading, stated Federal Judge Richard A. Paez in his rejection of Unocal’s motion for dismissal of the litigation. In his own testimony, Unocal President John Imle admitted that some porters were conscripted and some were volunteer.

Recently declassified US State Department documents, reveal Joel Robinson, a Unocal employee admitting, “the companies have hired the Burmese military to provide security for the project.”

Unocal’s Burma pipeline is not their first experience with slave labor. According to Mel Weiss, a prominent class-action attorney suing US companies on behalf of Nazi-era slaves, Unocal used slave labor in Nazi Germany, for the manufacturing of technical and medical oil during the entirety of WWII.

For more on Unocal in Burma :

Unocal Charter Revocation

Unocal has not only been complicit with human rights abuses in Burma. On April 19, 1999, a coalition backed by nearly 130 groups and individuals filed a legal petition and brief to revoke the corporate charter of UNOCAL, citing numerous complaints. The petition’s cites ten counts alleging decades of environmental destruction in California and elsewhere; unfair treatment of workers; hundreds of OSHA violations; usurpation of political power; deception of the courts, shareholders and the public; and, complicity in gross human rights violations abroad against women, homosexuals, workers, villagers and indigenous peoples. “The people of California don’t have to battle repeat offenders like Unocal one violation at a time,” declared James Lafferty, head of the National Lawyers Guild chapter in Los Angeles. (See article)

Update on Unocal Lawsuit

An article in the Washington Post (“Unocal ‘Smoking Gun’ Alleged”, May 2, 2000) recently revealed that a U.S. State Department document shows the bloody link between UNOCAL and the Burmese military: UNOCAL hired the soldiers as “security”.

For further Info: Contact Professor Robert Benson (213) 736-1094. Full Info about Unocal Charter Revocation

Total

Total took over Fina, a major Belgian oil company, earlier this year, and recently took over Elf Aquitaine, another huge French oil company. The company is currently called TotalFina and is now the world’s fifth largest oil company. Total has sold off its gas stations in North America and is planning to get rid of its North American Fina stations as well.

A recent report of a French parliamentary commission criticised Total’s involvement in Burma, and recommended a “freeze” in the company’s operations there, as well as better monitoring of French oil companies’ practices overseas.

Burma’s Nobel Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, accused France on May 17, 2000 of overlooking the poor human rights record of the Rangoon military government in order to safeguard its investments. And she warned that French oil giant TotalFina-Elf could not assume that its contracts in Burma would continue to be honoured once the country returned to democracy.

“Total knew what it was doing when it invested massively in Burma while others withdrew from the market for ethical reasons,” she told the French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur. “The company must accept the consequences. The country will not always be governed by dictators…Fifty-five percent of tourists here are French and France is the biggest European investor in the country. Maybe the French aren’t properly informed about what is going on here,” she said.

A New Report

A newly released report, by EarthRights International, “Total Denial Continues”, chronicles the continued abuses by SPDC troops in the pipeline region and Unocal’s knowledge of such acts. In the report, a villager describes the forced portering of supplies for the troops guarding the pipeline project construction, “The loads we had to carry were very heavy, and the soldiers were always shouting at us. One of the villagers stepped on a mine, lost his leg, and died. Along

the way, there was shouting, swearing, and some people were crying. People could not carry anymore, but they had to because of the SLORC soldiers. . . . [W]e were like slaves.”

For a copy of the Total Denial Continues Report, contact EarthRights International. For more on Total in Burma, contact: info.birmanie@globenet.org

Unocal and Total Claims

Unocal and Total boast that their project brings gainful employment, education and health care to Burmas people. They claim that they provide agricultural assistance and fair wages in the pipeline region. However, thousands of refugees continue to flee the pipeline area. The oil company development projects have been accused of doing little to help people in reality, and there are reports of their payments to civilians being confiscated by the military. Ka Hsaw Wa, the Goldman Environment Award-winning director of EarthRights International, which has conducted extensive investigations in the pipeline area, comments that villagers say that these projects are like when the man throws leftover bones at the dog.

Environmental Ruin

In Burma the gas pipeline cuts through precious ecosystems including dense tropical forest, disrupting the habitat of rare animals such as tigers, rhinoceros and elephants. It has destroyed wetland areas and demolished a wide swath of forest. Logging companies and poachers (including Burmese soldiers hunting elephants) are now able to enter the militarily secured area. A wildlife sanctuary established years ago by ethnic Karen rebels is in danger of clear-cutting.

On the Thai side of the border, the pipeline cuts through a rainforest region, defying the protests of Thai environmentalists who objected to its encroachment on protected forests and its danger to some of the last herds of wild Asian elephants. Unocal’s unwillingness to rein in its partners is part of a pattern of irresponsibility, commented Bhinand Jotirosaranee, one of the Thai protest leaders. They are accountable for this environmental destruction, and are showing disrespect to local people who have cherished elephants for centuries. Litigation is being undertaken in Thailand regarding the pipeline projects corruption of Thai environmental protection laws.

Current Situation

Although the Yadana pipeline is complete, the gas is of inferior quality and problems in financing a new electricity plant in Thailand have delayed its going online. Thailand is experiencing a gas glut, so has no need for the Yadana gas, and expenses of the pipeline have reportedly made the price of electricity actually go up in Thailand.

Thailand’s utilities have been forced in court to pay compensation to the Burmese junta, Unocal & Total (the Yadana pipeline partners) under the “take or pay” contract because they were not in a position to use the gas. They don’t seem to have actually made the payments yet. A small gas pipeline, in the same region as Yadana, was recently blown up by Karen rebels, and an oil tanker in that region was just blown up. Another pipeline, parallel to the Yadana is nearing completion. Built by Premier/Petronas/Nippon and the Burmese junta, the Yetagun pipeline has higher quality gas than Yadana, but it is unclear how it is to be used, considering Thailand’s gas glut. Some in Thailand have even talked of selling gas back to Burma, which has a severe energy shortage!

Campaign Strategy

Since the Yadana and Yetagun pipelines are now built, having displaced, enslaved, killed thousands of civilians, enriched the military, and damaged the environment, the campaign is no longer trying to “Stop the Pipeline.” Rather, it is trying to hold the companies accountable for the destruction they have caused, and stop them from getting involved in any more commercial ventures in Burma.

Board members are contacted every week in an effort to convince them to take a stand for the companies getting out of Burma. In the case of Unocal, withdrawal from Burma now would keep it out of expansions such as a pipeline through the Chin State and stop its support of the junta in public relations, lobbying and other efforts. The lawsuits are continuing. Boycott activities continue in Europe, especially Belgium. Colleges and universities are being urged to divest Unocal & Total stock. Shareholders are being organized to vote on Burma resolutions vs. management. The press and financial analysts are being given information about the companies’ disastrous Burma involvements. Demonstrations are held at the companies’ corporate offices.

Unocal’s Beach’s position as a trustee of the Asia Society and Imle’s position as co-chairman (with UNHRC’s Ogata) of the UN Business Humanitarian Forum, are under attack.

In the US, EarthRights International, No Petro$, and Burma Forum LA coordinate activities regarding the US and other oil companies in Burma. The campaign is based on successful efforts that withdrew Amoco, Petro-Canada (1992), Texaco and ARCO from Burma, but also adapts and develops new tactics.

 


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