Oil & Gas Investment
“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.
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 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
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,”
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: firstname.lastname@example.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.
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.
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
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.