Wed 2 May 2012
Filed under: Opinion,Other
With many sanctions against the military-backed government in Burma in the process of being suspended or lifted, there is intense interest from European companies in investing and trading with Burma. Trade and investment in developing countries can help bring benefits to the local population, both through the provision of employment and through revenue for governments to provide services. However Burma does not have a democratic and accountable government to ensure that revenue from trade and investment benefits the people, providing services such as schools and hospitals.
The European Burma Network warns companies not to view Burma simply as a country where they can exploit cheap labour and access natural resources cheaply. Several industries in Burma, particularly natural resource extraction and energy projects, are directly linked to human rights violations and environmental destruction. Despite recent reforms, Burma still has one of the worst human rights records in the world.
In his last report in March 2012, the UN Special Rapporteur on Burma listed a series of human rights abuses, all committed in Burma in recent months, which could constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. They include: ‘…grave violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including attacks against the civilian population, extrajudicial killings, internal displacement, the use of human shields and forced labour, confiscation and destruction of property, and conflict-related sexual violence…’
The UN Special Rapporteur on Burma also raised the possibility of a shift towards different types of abuses in a changing economy. “Given the wave of privatisations last year and the expected increase in foreign investment, along with the new government’s plans to accelerate economic development, I also fear an increase in land confiscations, development-induced displacement and other violations of economic, social and cultural rights,”
There remains a lack of international law to ensure European companies always operate to the highest standards outside the EU. In addition, Burma lacks laws to regulate companies, to protect workers, and protect the environment. It also lacks an independent judiciary and the rule of law which could enforce such regulations, and is one of the most corrupt countries in the world.
Members and observers of the European Burma Network endorse the ‘Benchmarks for Investment in Energy, Extractive and Land Sectors in Burma’ issued by the Burma Environmental Working Group (BEWG) on 22nd March 2012. (The statement is available online at: http://www.bewg.org/). BEWG is an alliance of grassroots environmental and social organisations.
Five key benchmarks have been established by the BEWG, these are;
1) Do No Harm – Investment should not exacerbate natural resource and land-based conflict in Burma.
2) Best Practices or No Practices – Investors should respect the widely accepted global standards for environmental and human rights law while following international best practices in human rights, social and environmental impact assessments.
3) Act Transparently and with Principles – Investors should have a zero-tolerance policy on corruption and should uphold full revenue and contract transparency.
4) Support Civil Society not Impunity – Civil society should be free to fulfil its role without threat of repression or abuse.
5) Empower Communities – Community grievances must be fully addressed in existing and proposed investments.
The European Burma Network will work with, and in support of, local communities and workers to monitor the activities of European companies operating in Burma. Companies which do not respect the guidelines from the BEWG, or are linked to any human rights abuses, exploitation of workers or suppliers, and environmental destruction, will be targeted for high profile campaigns by members of the European Burma Network. These could include boycotts, protests, shareholder actions and exposure in the media of their links to any abuses. All national and international legal options will also be pursued.