The Burma Campaign UK today welcomed British government calls for British American Tobacco (BAT) to pull out of Burma.
Foreign Office Minister, Mike O’Brien in a meeting today with Martin Broughton, Chairman of British American Tobacco, asked BAT to withdraw their investment from Burma. Mr Broughton agreed to consider the request and to give a formal reply soon.
BAT’s factory in Burma is a joint venture with Burma’s brutal military dictatorship. BAT refuses to admit how much money it gives to Burma’s military dictatorship, but the Burma Campaign UK estimates BAT has paid the generals $16m in taxes alone since 1999.
“BAT are like a rabbit caught in the headlights, under attack from campaigners, investment funds, MPs and now the British government,” says John Jackson, Director of The Burma Campaign UK. “It’s obvious to everyone they should jump, but the management seems too stubborn to back down, despite the damage to BAT’s reputation.
“We cannot continue to have a situation where one of the largest companies in Britain is funding a dictatorship that is massacring its own population. BAT might not be pulling the trigger, but they helped pay for it.”
The call by the British Government came on the same day as Premier Oil, previously targeted by Burma Campaign UK, finally ended its involvement in Burma.
While welcoming the call, the Burma Campaign UK warned the government it must also impose investment sanctions to stop any more British companies investing in Burma. “As things stand there is nothing to stop a British company investing in Burma tomorrow. The government must push for an investment ban at the UN Security Council.”
In November 2002 the Burma Campaign UK and Federation of Trade Unions (Burma), launched a global campaign to close BAT’s factory in Burma. Since the launch of the campaign BAT have faced a series of embarrassments, including the release of a letter by their Deputy Chairman, Kenneth Clarke MP, in which he said: “I must admit I do sometimes feel uncomfortable about investment in that country.”
BAT’s AGM in April 2003 was dominated by questions about Burma. A month later the company faced further embarrassment when the Burma Campaign UK revealed BAT had exaggerated salaries of their lowest paid Burmese factory workers by 86%.
BAT’s efforts to rebrand itself as a socially responsible company have also been undermined, with investment funds downgrading BAT on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) scales.
80 MPs have signed an Early Day Motion calling on BAT to close its factory.
The campaign against BAT is supported by UNISON, Friends of the Earth, Christian Solidarity Worldwide and Burmese Democratic Movement.
For more information contact John Jackson, Director of Burma Campaign UK,or Mark Farmaner, Media Officer, on 020 7281 7377