November 27, 2001

The Burma Campaign UK (BCUK) today launched a campaign targeting lingerie giant Triumph International, in protest at the company’s support for Burma’s ruling military junta.
BCUK is calling for a boycott of all Triumph products until the company closes down its Burma-based manufacturing site.
Burma is ruled by an illegitimate military dictatorship – a regime that refuses to transfer power to Burma’s elected democrats; a regime that has been charged by the UN’s International Labour Organisation with a ‘crime against humanity’ for pressing millions of men, women and children into forced labour; a regime engaged in the oppression and exploitation of its own people.
– Triumph’s Burmese factory is located on a military-owned industrial estate north of Rangoon. This is an area upgraded by the military in July 1996 reportedly using forced labour. A BBC Newsnight documentary aired in 1997 confirms the use of child labour on the site. When questioned on Swiss television about the regime’s use of forced labour in such instances Triumph’s Director Wolfgang Spiesshofer said: “The people in Burma do not pay taxes, this is not possible in that country. So if the government has to construct a road or an airport or something else, how could they do it differently?”
– Triumph’s landlord is the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (UMEH). Members of UMEH’s Board are all, without exception, linked to the military. The Defence Ministry’s Directorate of Procurement (for weaponry) is a 40% shareholder and largely directs operations.
– Almost 100% of Triumph’s Burma production is for export. Therefore in addition to rental payments to UMEH and commercial taxes on local sales, the company will pay a 5% tax to the military authorities on all production for export.
Over the last 14 years an influx of foreign capital has been used by Burma’s regime to more than double the size of the military and to enrich a narrow elite closely connected to senior military personnel. Burma’s people meanwhile have grown ever poorer. Foreign capital has served simply to strengthen – financially and politically – the very dictatorship that oppresses and impoverishes the people of Burma.
Yvette Mahon, Director of the Burma Campaign UK says: “Members of the public unwittingly play a part in sustaining military rule in Burma when they buy goods from companies – like Triumph – who operate there. Consumers can take direct action against a company prepared to bolster one of the worlds most corrupt and brutal dictatorships, by boycotting all Triumph products until the company withdraws from the country.”
Burma’s regime is one of the world’s most prolific abusers of labour rights. Millions have been pressed into forced labour on construction projects or as porters for the army. In November 2000 the International Labour Organisation adopted an unprecedented resolution calling on national governments and private companies to review relations with Burma – to ensure ties with the country do not help to perpetuate the system of forced labour. An international campaign led by the trade union movement has since been launched urging companies to close down business operations in Burma.
Burma’s democratically elected National League for Democracy, led by Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has also pressed the international community to stem the flow of foreign capital into the regime’s coffers – to sever the lifeline that sustains military rule. Over the last decade an increasing number of international corporations have complied with this request either willingly or under pressure – the Arcadia Group, British Home Stores, C&A, Phillips, Levi Strauss, Apple, Pepsi Cola and Reebok amongst them.
Garments are one of Burma’s fastest growing and valuable exports. Low pay and the military junta’s ban on unions have undoubtedly helped draw manufacturers to the country. There is now growing pressure on this industry to terminate operations in Burma – to support Burma’s democrats in their struggle for freedom in that country.
Contact Yvette Mahon: 0207 281 7377 (w) or 07957 301 346 (m) for further information and a copy of the report: ‘Triumph or Disaster?’
Notes to Editors
Burma’s military regime is responsible for:
– Millions of people in forced labour – often imposed with the threat of physical abuse, beatings, torture, rape and murder.
– One and a half million internally displaced people, in part the result of ethnic cleansing campaigns against minority groups.
– The detention of approx. 1500 political prisoners, many of them routinely tortured.
– Thousands of refugees who have fled to Thailand, China, India and Bangladesh.
– The production over the last decade of most of the world’s illegal opium and heroin.
– One of the largest armies in Asia even though the country has no external enemies.
– The closure of Burma’s universities for most of the last decade in an attempt to avoid civil unrest – a whole generation’s education and opportunity has been lost.
– An impoverished population suffering widespread malnutrition, high under-five and maternal mortality and escalating HIV transmission rates.
In May 1997, President Clinton issued a federal order banning new investment in Burma by US businesses. Additional legislation has been proposed which seeks to ban the import of any article produced, manufactured or grown in Burma.
The European Union has not yet imposed sanctions legislation. However a number of significant European governments – notably the UK – do actively discourage trade and investment.
A website listing companies operating in Burma has recently been launched:
http://www.global-unions.org/burma


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