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More Multinationals Doing Business With Burma

ICFTU uncovers more multinationals doing business with Burma

Brussels, 29 June 2004 (ICFTU Online): As part of a long-standing campaign for the full respect of human rights and workers' rights in Burma, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) today released a new version of its Burma company database. An additional 36 companies appear on the ICFTU's list of multinationals operating in Burma, taking the database total to well over 400 international companies. At the same time, the International Labour Organisation has decided to step up the pressure on Burma, and may focus on the issue of foreign investment when its Governing Body meets again in November 2004.

One of the new additions to the list is SWIFT. A financial company based in Belgium and operating worldwide, SWIFT hosts a network which everyday enables high street banks and other financial institutions to make transactions with one another.

However, at the same time, SWIFT is now playing an important role in propping up the Burmese dictatorship, having recently accepted four Burmese government-owned banks into its network. The international trade union movement deplores this since it allows the country's dictators to make international financial transactions and profit from them. Disturbingly, the Burmese military dictatorship is able to use SWIFT's networks to evade the economic sanctions imposed on it by the international community, particularly sanctions imposed last year by the USA, which excludes, amongst other things, financial transactions to and from Burma in US dollars.

Daewoo International Corporation is another company coming under the spotlight for fraternising with the Burmese regime. Appearing in the ICFTU's database, the multinational, which has roots in South Korea, plans to operate and explore several new gas fields in Burma. Together with Korea Gas, Daewoo International is in the early stages of setting up a number of major operations in the South- East Asian country.

Initial estimates suggest that the size of the Daewoo International gas operations will dwarf the Yadana gas fields where the French company Total and US-based Unocal operate. The commercial exploitation of gas fields in Burma has traditionally been accompanied by appalling human rights violations. Daewoo International operations may unleash a new wave of forced labour.

The ICFTU list also names Austrian Airlines for its links to Burma, which has resulted in a stream of negative publicity for the Austrian company. Despite this, the airline is unwilling to openly express any intention to permanently halt flights to Burma. Austrian Airlines is the only major foreign carrier from outside the region that still operates regular scheduled flights to the country.

Continuing forced labour was the topic of a special session of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Annual Conference, which concluded last week in Geneva. The Conference's Committee on the Application of Standards, which monitors member states' compliance with ratified ILO Conventions, was deeply disturbed by the death sentences given to 3 activists from the Federation of Trade Unions- Burma (FTUB). Sentenced to death last November, the 3 had been accused of high treason for reporting incidents of forced labour to the ILO.

The ILO has given the military junta until November 2004 to demonstrate real progress on the issue of forced labour. This should include the release of the FTUB prisoners. The ILO warns that the alternative would be a reactivation of measures contained in a special resolution adopted by the ILO Conference in June 2000, under article 33 of the ILO Constitution.

The decision on Burma adopted by the ILO last week is a landmark, since it specifically relates to foreign direct investment.

All multinational companies on the ICFTU list operate in Burma, have business relations with the country, have been in direct contact with the officials of the regime and/or promote tourism in the country. The ICFTU asserts that conducting any formal business relationship in Burma benefits the Burmese military dictatorship, directly or indirectly. Therefore, these multinational companies are seen as supporting the dictators who rule the country.

Burma continues to have one of the worst human and trade union rights records in the world. In spite of some minor positive steps which have been made in the last few years, partly a result of international pressure, there have been very few changes in the way the Burmese dictators treat their citizens. Improvements have mostly been merely cosmetic and in many cases, were followed by new waves of brutal repression including violence against religious and ethnic minorities, forced relocation, physical assault, child labour, rape and murder. The reality is that cases of these disturbing criminal offences happen on a daily basis. The regime also has a high number of political prisoners in custody. Forced labour, one of the serious and widespread problems in Burma, is still the labour practice of choice routinely used by the Burmese military.

The database, including specific information for each company, as well as background information on this initiative, can be found on the web at: http://www.global-unions.org/burma

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