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Boycott Imports from Burma

Importing products from Burma inevitably contributes to the oppression of the people of Burma. Because the junta’s use of forced labour is widespread throughout the country, it is extremely difficult to avoid doing business that does not benefit from or support Burma’s regime and its human rights abuses. (See corporate complicity) Through joint-venture operations these exports directly implicate foreign industries and consumers in a state-run system that, spends about 40% of its budget on weapons purchases and less than 2% on health care for its own citizens. Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), which won 82% of the vote in the 1990 elections, has been urging foreign companies to refrain from doing business in their country because of the detrimental effects it has on the people and the environment.

"If businessmen do not care that our workers are exposed to exploitation, they should at least be concerned that a dissatisfied labour force will eventually mean social unrest and economic instability. To observe businessmen who come to Burma with the intention of enriching themselves is somewhat like watching passers-by in an orchard roughly stripping off blossoms for their fragile beauty, blind to the ugliness of the despoiled branches," warned Aung San Suu Kyi in 1996.


Despite that Canada imposed a voluntary sanctions policy, Selective Economic Measures a gainst Burma in August 1997, over the past few years, imports from Burma have increased by over 50%. Of the total number of imports from Burma in 1996, the total value was Cdn $14,586,985, (which included $5,684,185 on garments, $5,807,319, on prawns/shrimp and $3,095,481 on other products). In 1998, the total value rose to Cdn $22,944,546, (of which $11,816,005 was spent on frozen shrimp, $9,883,656 on garments, and $1,244,885 on other products).


Garment importers and consumers inevitably help the Burmese junta to buy weaponry. The military’s Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (UMEH) is the state-controlled enterprise that foreign companies are steered towards if they want to take advantage of joint venture opportunities in Burma, which includes garment industry investments and marketing deals managed out of Burma. The UMEH is 40% owned by the arms procurement branch of the Ministry of Defense. Foreign garment importers (and other foreign investors) are financing the UMEH, the sole shipping agent for Sea Containers Myanmar Limited, which controls a large share of cargo traffic on route between Rangoon and Singapore, through which most exports out of Burma, including clothing, are then transhipped to North America.

Reitmans and Saans are two Canadian companies that are known to have imported clothing from Burma over the past couple of years.

In addition to the above importers, a further 187 metric tons of garments, whose retail destination are not indicated in the PIERS data base, entered the Port of Vancouver between July 1998 and July 1999. Unfortunately, the data base only tracks the freight forwarding companies who first bring in the merchandise but then these companies forward it on to retailers across Canada, which must be tracked by other means. The names of some of these freight forwarding companies are: Canadian Retails Shipper Association, Western Assembly, and Carson Freight Service.

CFOB published a report about Burma’s garment industry in 1996 called Dirty Clothes:Dirty System. Although some of the report’s data and figures are out of date, the facts are still very relevant. Unfortunately, "How Burma’s Military Dictatorship Uses Profits from the Garment Industry to Bankroll Oppression" has not changed since the release of the report.

Dirty Clothes: Dirty System is a comprehensive analysis which articulates the problem, but also provides an action plan for change. The report notes the demand for more ethical business practices among some Western consumers. "Why should SLORC not be faced with similar potential boycotts until it begins to treat its own citizens with respect?" The report argues that the current quota system in the garment industry is no excuse for doing business with regimes such as the SLORC. "Cheap clothes and ever-higher profits are the issue." The practice of false labeling increases this growth by an unknown amount. At the time of the reports publication, Burmese garment workers earned between $20-25 a month, or half the going rate in Vietnam and one-tenth the average wage in Thailand.

For a copy of the report,

Forced Labour and Shrimp Imports

Frozen prawns and shrimp are currently Canada’s biggest imports from Burma. Tai Foong International imports sea shrimp, and Export Packers Company imports prawns. Because forced labour is widespread in Burma, and the military has a tight control over the economy, the ethical nature of all economic projects in this country is questionable. Now, we have specific proof connecting forced labour to the production of shrimp in Burma.

According to the Mon Information Service, there has been a government prawn-raising project at Kyauk Minaw and Kanyawbyin villages in Lauglon township since the time of the Burma Socialist Programme Party administration (before Sept. 1988). The present ruling military regime SLORC/SPDC continued the project after it came to power in 1988. This government-owned prawn-raising project has been maintained solely by means of forced labour and extortion from the local population and prawn businessmen. Local prawn businessmen are required to contribute young prawns, according to the quotas set by the SLORC/SPDC prawn project officials, while several local villages are required to contribute labour for the construction of all necessary buildings and lakes. Local villages are also required to perform round-the-clock guard at the prawn-raising project sites, though there are some 20 to 30 SLORC/SPDC military and police personnel present there for the project’s security.


Burma is a country rich in natural resources. Unfortunately, these riches are being exploited by the military for profit to sustain themselves, at the expense of the people (see environment). Some of the world’s last remaining old-growth teak forests are in Burma, and like the rest of the country, are being ravaged by Burma’s junta. Teak, often sold through back-door channels in Thailand, is a major source of hard currency for the regime. Teak is often cut and milled using forced labour which is often accompanied by beatings, rapes and other abuses. Teak from Burma may be for sale in stores in your area: furniture stores, flooring stores, woodworker wholesale yards or by boat sellers. Again, if you find teak from Burma, please notify CFOB with information of which store is selling and write a letter yourself explaining the human rights implications of importing from Burma.

For more information on the teak connection, please contact the Philadelphia Burma Roundtable

Press Releases/Statements and News

Burma Parliamentary delegation expected in Canada

CFOB statement on latest communal violence in Burma

What more can Canada do in Burma? - Tin Maung Htoo

Burma’s Kachin seek Canadian support

Staying true for human rights for all - Rebecca Wolsak

Why Inter Pares is wrong on Burma - Tin Maunng Htoo

CFOB concerned with Kachin conflicts in northern Burma

CFOB 2012 Annual Report released!

Statement on CFOB AGM on Dec. 15, 2012

Burmese Civil Society Organizations Dismayed by Inter Pares

CFOB AGM on Dec. 15 in Toronto

Minister Jason Kenney to Meet with Prominent Buddhist Monk

CFOB in Crisis with Rohingya in Burma

Baird Concerned about Renewed Violence in Rekhine State

Burmese Foreign Minister Queitly Visited to Canada

CFOB Policy Statement: “Navigating the thaw: Burma-Canada Relations in 2012 and beyond”

Over 70 Canadians and Burmese activists cleared from 'Blacklist'

Revised: Canada Calls for Peaceful Solution in Arakan state of Burma

Advocating humanitarian assistance to Kachin IDPs in Burma

Parliamentary Testimony with Aung Din (USCB)

Parliamentary Testimony with Tin Maung Htoo (CFOB)

Minister Kenney Surprises Burmese Community with Announcement

Minister Jason Kenney to meet with Burmese community leaders in Toronto

Policy Consultation on Burma

Burma Day - Celebrating 20th of CFOB

Long-time Burma supporter Brian John passed away

CFOB pleased by prisoners release but more reform needed

CFOB Welcomes Fine For Firm That Illegally Exported Plane to Burma

CFOB Welcomes U.S Secretary of States Visit to Burma

CFOB Saddend by the Loss of Jack Layton

Cross Canada bike ride for Burma reaching to final destination

Ivanhoe received US$103 million from Burma's copper mines

Burmese President accepts credentials of Canadian Ambassador to Burma

Aung San Suu Kyi supports UN commission of inquiry on Burma

Transfer of Ivanhoe's Burmese assets to weapons firm must be probed

Canada Sends Best Wishes to Aung San Suu Kyi on Her Birthday

66th Birthday Events of Aung San Suu Kyi in Canada

Suu Kyi to be honored on Canada Day in Côte Saint-Luc

Cross-Canada Bike Ride for Burma

Suu Kyi addresses to Conference on ‘Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict’

New Burmese Ambassador to Canada: a messenger for new regime in Burma?

Media coverage on detained Canadian in Burma

Suu Kyi to deliver video message at Carleton University

Carleton University to Honour Aung San Suu Kyi

Canada to Support 'Commission of Inquiry' on Burma's rights violations

Canada to Renew humanitarian support

Canada to welcome additional 1,300 Karen Refugees from Thai-Burma Border

CFOB Welcomes Opposition Party Calling for Economic Sanctions

Two events today in Toronto and Vancouver to mark DSSAK Day

CFOB applauds government and Parliament for granting Honorary Citizenship for Suu Kyi, and urges more action on Burma

CFOB welcomes throne speech to honor Suu Kyi with Honorary Citizenship

Canada Welcomes Statement by the United Nations Security Council on Burma

More news...

Annual Reports

2012 Annual Report

2011 Annual Report

2010 Annual Report

2009 Annual Report

2008 Annual Report

2006 Annual Report

2005 Annual Report


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