Amidst conflicting signals from the military junta about the country’s possible withdrawal from the ILO, the agency’s Governing Body will next week discuss the latest Burma report from ILO Director-General Juan Somavia. The document details last-ditch negotiations between senior ILO officials and junta members, as well as a full-scale propaganda campaign launched against the ILO last July, alongside a series of written death-threats against the organisation’s representative in Burma’s capital, Rangoon.
The junta’s hostility towards the ILO stems from a renewed call by its annual Conference, last June, for all ILO Members to step-up their review of relations with Burma, imposed in 2000 after the organisation concluded that the junta was systematically imposing forced labour on its civilian population.
In a report backed up by 1600 pages of evidence and submitted to the ILO last September, the ICFTU concluded that the army was continuing to resort to forced labour on a massive scale in infrastructure building, agriculture, forestry and services for the military, including forced portering of equipment for the army in combat zones as well as “human minesweeping”. The latter describes a practice under which civilians, often clad in army uniforms, are forced to carry ammunition and other loads, marching at the head of army columns in order to draw fire from ethnic insurgent groups and detonate landmines planted by either side to the internal armed conflict, which has raged in this Southeast Asian country for decades. The ICFTU September 2005 report to the ILO
Commenting on the junta’s threat to withdraw from the ILO, the ICFTU General Secretary, Guy Ryder, said in Brussels today such a move would constitute a “rare and exceptional step”. “Burma’s military would be well-advised to carefully weigh the consequences of its actions”, he added. He said threatening an ILO official and holding mass-rallies against the ILO’s presence in the country was “unprecedented and exceptionally serious”. Recalling that the government would in any case have to wait out a two-year “cooling-off period”, Ryder stated that “in the meantime, the door should remain open to Burma’s military regime to resume cooperation with the ILO and demonstrate it is serious about desisting from forced labour”.
Last January, the ICFTU had released a detailed study which proved it was impossible to do business in or with Burma without directly supporting its military junta. The document also explained how the government spent its revenue, with 40% of the national budget going to the military, against a mere 0.3% spent on health care.
Since then, the ICFTU has found fresh evidence of 38 more companies doing business with Burma. These firms are based in the United States (6 companies), China (5), India and Thailand (4 each), Japan, Malaysia and Singapore (3 each), Germany (2), and one each in Bangladesh, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Korea, Qatar, Turkey and the United Kingdom. While many of these companies are relatively small, others are prominent in their field, like Japan’s Sanyo electronics producer and Germany’s Polyphon, a leading film and television production company. As for South Korea’s industrial giant Daewoo, it recently announced it had completed exploration drilling off the coast of Burma’s Arakan State. Gas production, scheduled to start in 2010, is expected to bring the company net annual profits of up to 100 million USD over a 20 years’ period. Last month, ICFTU affiliates in Korea held public protests in front of Daewoo’s Seoul headquarters, demanding the company pull out of Burma.
Recalling that his organisation had recently backed international efforts to place Burma on the agenda of the UN Security Council, Ryder said “Burma’s withdrawal from the ILO, if confirmed, would only strengthen the ICFTU’s resolve to hold its government accountable for its horrendous record on workers’ and other human rights”‘. “Our determination to convince multinational companies to disinvest from Burma and to bring its government to task at the Security Council fits squarely in that strategy”, he concluded.
The ICFTU stresses that its list represents only the “top of the iceberg”. Before putting a company on its “Burma companies database”, the ICFTU – together with its partner organisations, the Global Union Federations and the OECD’s Trade Union Advisory Council (TUAC) – engages in a detailed research and consultation process which includes an exchange of correspondence with the company in question. Details of this correspondence, as well as the updated list itself – may be found on the ICFTU’s website, at: http://www.global-unions.org/burma.
The ICFTU represents 145 million workers through its 234 affiliated organisations in 154 countries and territories – www.icftu.org
List of Dutch companies:
Netherlands: Altius houtagenturen (reply from company available)
Netherlands: Bruynzeel Multipanel B.V.
Netherlands: Dopharma International
Netherlands: Far Holidays International
Netherlands: Fox Vakanties
Netherlands: Houthandel Boogaerdt bv
Netherlands: Houthandel Van de Stadt BV
Netherlands: HT Wandelreizen
Netherlands: IHC Caland (reply from company available)
Netherlands: Incento Reisbureau
Netherlands: Koning Aap
Netherlands: Outsight Travel
Netherlands: Stevens paper & Board (reply from company available)
Netherlands: Summun reizen
Netherlands: Sun Furniture (reply from company available)
Netherlands: VNC Travel
Netherlands: Voigt & Co.
Netherlands: Worldwood BV