July 4, 1997

In an interview on BBC 2’s Newsnight on 3 July the Government moved British Foreign policy on Burma one step closer to supporting full economic sanctions against the country. Foreign Minister Derek Fatchett said the Government would now “discourage economic activity” in Burma.
Although at present the Government “cannot control or order companies not to invest and not to trade with Burma,” they will now ask them “to think about the human rights record” and “to listen to the Government’s advice” before making their final decision about operating in the country.
This statement follows on swiftly from the Government’s announcement on 19 June that there will be no further financial support for trade promotion activities within Burma, or for trade missions to the country “until there is progress towards democratic reform and respect for human rights in Burma.” The 19 June statement also said that in providing routine advice to British companies about doing business in Burma, the Government would ”make clear wherever possible the present realities in Burma, including the political and human rights situation and the state of the economy.. (and) will also draw to businessmen’s attention statements by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other pro-democracy leaders discouraging trade and investment in Burma.”
Yvette Mahon Co-ordinator of the Burma Action group UK said “ Yesterday’s public pledge indicates a subtle but important shift in policy; from a position of ‘no support for’ trade promotion to one that promises to actively discourage British economic interests. This harder line is likely to have a significant impact on British companies with existing and potential interests in the country and sends a firm signal of growing world resolve to isolate Burma’s brutal military regime. “
The Burton Group yesterday became the most recent in a growing list of high street names to pull out of Burma. The company issued a statement announcing that it had instructed its’ suppliers, Unimix Limited ( a joint venture operation with the Burmese military’s holding company Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings) “to place no further contracts for sourcing from Burma and to terminate all existing contracts by no later than the end of this year. The company stated “it is the Burton Group’s policy to listen to its’ customers and this decision has been taken following a review of customer opinion towards merchandise sourced from Burma.”
The Burma Action Group UK had been pursuing a campaign opposing the Burton Groups’s Burma operations, following the success of its’ campaign against another British retailer British Home Stores (Bhs). Bhs announced their withdrawal from Burma in October 1996. Of the Burton withdrawal Yvette Mahon said “this is a another clear success for the Burma campaign here in Britain. This news will lend great strength and encouragement to the Burmese democracy movement, at a time when they are subject to an increasingly aggressive wave of repression. The Burma Action Group UK now urge other British companies to follow suit. The operations of the House of Fraser are under investigation and appropriate action is being considered with regard to Premier oil UK. ”

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