October 1, 2003

Unions make formal complaint that BAT’s Burma factory breaches OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

The International Union of Foodworkers (IUF), supported by Amicus MSF, which represents BAT’s workers in the UK, has made a complaint to the Department for Trade and Industry (DTI) that British American Tobacco (BAT) is in breach of OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. The TUC is also supporting the complaint. BAT has a factory in Burma that is a joint venture with the country’s brutal military dictatorship.

Britain is one of 37 signatories to the Guidelines, 30 of whom are OECD members. The Guidelines are recommendations addressed by governments to multinational enterprises on corporate social responsibility (CSR). The British government describes the Guidelines as: “an integral part of the UK government’s policy towards corporate social responsibility.”

The IUF argues that by operating a joint venture with the dictatorship, BAT is in breach of Article II of the Guidelines, specifically sections stating that enterprises should contribute to economic, social and environmental progress, respect human rights of those affected by their activities, and encourage business partners, including suppliers and sub-contractors, to apply principles of corporate conduct compatible with the Guidelines.

The complaint has been made to the UK National Contact Point at the DTI. The DTI Contact Point must now make an assessment of whether the issues raised merit further investigation. The Contact Point will then attempt to help BAT and the IUF resolve the complaint. If no agreement is obtained the National Contact Point will then issue a statement or make recommendations. The recommendations are not binding, but if they are upheld it will be a major embarrassment to BAT. It will also be a further blow to the company’s attempt to rebrand itself as a socially responsible company, and increase pressure on them to pull out of Burma.

The Burma Campaign UK welcomed the move. “The people of Burma, the British government, and the union representing BAT’s own staff want the company out of Burma,” says John Jackson, Director of the Burma Campaign UK. “There is no moral defence and with the damage to BAT’s reputation no financial defence either. It is time BAT bowed to the inevitable and got out of Burma.”

In July this year the British government called on BAT to pull out of Burma. BAT said it would consider the request, but BAT’s board is split on the issue and the company has been unable to make a decision.

For more information contact Mark Farmaner, Burma Campaign UK Media Office on 020 7324 4710


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