Η Βόρεια Κορέα δεν είναι η μόνη αποκομμένη απ’ τον κόσμο χούντα στον πλανήτη. Σε ένα εντυπωσιακό κείμενο ο Τζορτζ Πάκερ περιγράφει ένα καθεστώς που δεν θα έπρεπε να υπάρχει στον 21ο αιώνα. Από τον New Yorker:
In 1987, I backpacked through Burma on a one-week visa, the maximum time allowed. I had never seen a place so untouched by the West; even Pepsi was illegal. The country was ruled by General Ne Win, who had led the 1962 coup and subsequently imposed on Burma an isolation nearly as extreme and self-destructive as North Korea’s. He governed through force, paranoia, and superstition: a few weeks before my visit, Ne Win, advised by his astrologer that the number nine was auspicious, abolished all Burmese banknotes of twenty-five, thirty-five, and seventy-five kyats, replacing them with two new denominations—forty-five and ninety—that are divisible by nine and whose numerals add up to nine. Countless Burmese lost their life savings. Yet there were no major protests.
UPDATE: Ο αναγνώστης Γιώργος Ράδος έγραψε μια έρευνα για τη Μπούρμα στα πλαίσια μιας ομαδικής εργασίας για την κλεπτοκρατία. Μπες εντός του post για να τη διαβάσεις.
The BURMA – TOTAL case
Historical Background of Burma
Burma, also known as Myanmar, is a relatively new country that was a British colony until the Second World War. An epigrammatic historical background follows:
•1948: Burma becomes an independent state
•1962: General Ne Win establishes a socialist military regime
•1988: General Saw Maung, head of the State Law & Order Restoration Council (SLORC) party, takes power and announces elections for 1989
•1989: SLORC administration swifts from Socialism to Capitalism
•1990, May: Democratic elections. National League for Democracy wins 82% of the seats in the parliament
•1990, October: SLORC members do not admit their loss; take over the offices of NLD all over Burma, capture the head of NLD, Aung San Suu Kyi, put her under house arrest and establish martial law.
The Generals of SLORC hold the power until the present day. During these 45 years of militaristic regime, many uprisings by students, monks and other citizens were put down by the junta with brutality and raw violence, resulting in deaths, torture and exiles. One of the most important and massive protests took place in August 1988, when many people were killed. Some unofficial sources claim that more than 5000 people died during the riots against Ne Win. This protest resulted in the succession of Ne Win by Saw Maung a few months later.
A more recent incident took place in May 2003, when 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Kyi and a group of supporters were attacked by the military and more than 150 people were killed. Kyi was then put under house arrest, for the third time in the last 16 years.
Recently, Kyi, surprisingly enough, was allowed to receive a visit from United Nations representative Ibrahim Gambari during the latter’s visit to Burma in order to find a peaceful solution to the ongoing riots, that were initiated by the Buddhist monks and subsequently spread all over the country.
TOTAL S.A. in Burma
TOTAL, the fourth largest oil company in the world and the largest French company, started to operate in Burma in 1992. It then signed contracts for the creation of the Yadana project, which was finalized 6 years later. The pipeline starts from the Yadana gas fields; bridges the distance of 346 kilometers with mainland Burma and ends after 63 kilometers at the Thai border. This project is fully operated by Total, holding 31% of the shares. The state company of Burma, MOGE, holds 15%, Chevron 28% and the Petroleum Authority of Thailand (PTT) the remaining 26% (the Yadana pipeline provides Thailand with 20% of its needs). The contract expires in 30 years and the funds invested total 13 million U.S. dollars. Currently, 800 people are employed in operating the pipeline. Burman nationals constitute 95% of these employees. A fact that is not clear is the origins of those locals. Besides the 55% of pure Burmans, there are other ethnic groups – tribes that leave in Burma; the four most important and unified are the ethnic groups of Shan, Kachin, Mon and Karen.
The reactions from Non-Governmental Organizations
Total’s investment in a country ruled by a non-democratic regime triggered many reactions. International NGO’s, such as Burma Campaign UK and Burma Centrum Netherlands, protested against Total and asked it to stop financing the military regime and withdraw from the country. They state that the company constitutes the main financial pillar of the generals due to the nearly half billion US dollars that the project annually generates for the regime. Lack of transparency makes it hard to verify this kind of information.
But what can be said is that the weak point in the argumentation of the NGOs is that they disregard the possibility of a takeover of the facilities by another company that will have a closer relationship with the regime than Total has. It is not at all unlike that the Thai company (PTT) would like to increase its share by acquiring Total’s 31% and have in total the 56% of the project, should Total decided to withdraw, for instance. Thailand is also under a military regime at the moment, even though, milder than that of Burma.
Since 2004, when Myanmar officials decided to attract foreign companies to invest money, more than 6 six companies from China, Thailand, South Korea and Malaysia decided to explore the regions capacity in resources.
The reaction of the company
The recent pressure from NGOs made Total to publish a press release regarding the operations in the region:
In light of recent events unfolding in Myanmar, Total would like to restate its position regarding its presence in the country. – September 26, 2007
First of all, the Group would like to express its deep concern over the present situation, which it is monitoring very closely. Under these particular circumstances, Total is deploying heightened vigilance to ensure the safety of its employees. We hope that the current tensions facing the country will quickly subside and that solutions will be found in order to safeguard the population and protect human rights.
We are convinced that through our presence we are helping to improve the daily lives of tens of thousands of people who benefit from our social and economic initiatives. By promoting responsible behavior, our local teams can serve as a model for business and political leaders looking for ways to address the country’s human rights issues.
We would like to thank all those who have encouraged us to pursue our actions to help the local people and enhance their well-being through the defense of common values. To those who ask us to leave the country, we reply that far from solving Myanmar’s problems, a forced withdrawal would only lead to our replacement by other operators probably less committed to the ethical principles guiding all our initiatives. Our departure could cause the population even greater hardship and is thus an unacceptable risk.
Vice-President Public Affairs, Total Exploration & Production
Analyzing this statement, it becomes clear that this release is phrased very cautiously so as not to risk any conflict in Total’s relations with the Burmese government, but also to demonstrate a responsible corporate profile. There is a term in the contract with the government that clearly implies Total’s ousting from the country if the company acts in any way that might undermine the regime.
Despite the fact that the company acts mainly as a Business-to-Business supplier, it also cares about its commercial business-to-consumer operations and its reputation in general. For this reason, Total tries to balance all different interests in this announcement and to keep all stakeholders as satisfied as possible.
The argumentation is solid and totally understandable from the point of view of a big multinational in a pragmatic aspect. The basic assumption is that if Total leaves, the regime will not stop to be financed because a successor will appear and take Total’s share, as mentioned earlier. This argument becomes even stronger if we take under consideration the position of Asian firms on the stance of Social Responsibility (Table X.Y – van Tulder) which is clearly inactive while the position of the European firms is more of Active or even Inter Active.