The Burma Campaign UK today launched a global campaign against British American Tobacco (BAT). BAT have a factory in Burma which is a joint venture with the military regime. The campaign is backed by amongst others; the Federation of Trade Unions – Burma, UNISON, Glenys Kinnock MEP, actress Juliet Stevenson, Maureen Lipman, Mark Thomas, and Lord Steel of Aikwood.
A major embarrassment for BAT is the fact that its own Deputy Chairman, Ken Clarke MP, has criticised companies collaborating with the regime. In a recent letter to a constituent he stated: “I must admit I sometimes feel uncomfortable about investment in that country.” He went on to say that: “The problem in Burma arises when companies start collaborating with an extremely unpleasant regime which is totally contrary to our notions of civil liberties and democracy.”
BAT’s Burmese subsidiary is Rothmans of Pall Mall Myanmar – a 60/40 joint venture with the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (UMEH). UMEH is owned and controlled by Burma’s military regime. In 1996 the industrial zone where the BAT factory is sited was upgraded by the military authorities using child labour.
BAT pays factory workers just 23p a day. The UN defines anyone living on less than 60p a day as living in extreme poverty. The Burma Campaign UK estimates that the joint venture earns the regime $400,000 a year. Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of Burma’s democracy movement, has called on companies to stay out of the country, saying foreign investment funds the regime and helps to keep it in power.
“Ken Clarke is absolutely right”, says John Jackson, Director of Burma Campaign UK. “BAT’s collaboration with the regime is helping to keep this brutal dictatorship in power. He should get them to pull out immediately.”
Campaigners are being asked to deluge BAT with emails and postcards calling on them to close their factory in Burma. Major investors will also be asked to use their influence. Over the next year the campaign will be rolled out in nearly twenty countries, including the USA, Australia, Germany, France, Netherlands, Italy, Ireland, Brazil and Thailand.
Dozens of companies have been forced to pull out of Burma following similar campaigns, including Pepsico, Heineken, Texaco and Triumph International. Earlier this year Premier Oil, the largest UK investor in Burma, was forced to pull out following a five-year campaign.
“BAT face the biggest global campaign yet organised by Burma democracy campaigners”, says John Jackson. “There is no way a company can operate in Burma without supporting the regime. It is impossible for them to defend their investment. They would do well to pull out now before their corporate reputation is damaged even further.