A major two- year investigation by EarthRights International has found further, compelling evidence linking oil giants Total and Chevron to forced labour, killings, and high-level corruption in Burma.
The important report, called Total Impact, documents how Total and Chevron’s highly controversial Yadana gas project has generated just under $5 billion for the ruthless military junta in Burma. The pipeline transports gas from the Andaman Sea through dense rainforest to the Thai border.
Along the pipeline corridor, Earth Rights have documented systematic and sustained abuse by the Burmese military since it was built in the mid-nineties. For this new report, photographs and interviews with hundreds of villagers in the area of the pipeline, reveal continued forced labour, killings and violations of property rights and freedom of movement. The report is full of heart-felt testimony:
“We can no longer do farming around our village because we don’t have existing land [anymore],” said one villager whose land was confiscated by Total and Chevron’s security forces.
“The work we have to do for the military is still happening,” said another villager, referring to forced labour for pipeline security battalions. ERI details several killings of ethnic villagers by Yadana Project security and violations of freedom of movement.
“We cannot move freely around,” said one villager last year, explaining restrictions imposed on her village by Yadana Project security battalions.
In the good old fashioned genre of investigative journalism and the concept of “following the money”, the report argues that the junta manages to avoid including almost all its dollar gas revenues in the national budget by using an artificially low exchange rate. This way it calculates its revenue as just 6 kyat to the dollar when the real rate is closer to 1,000. The report says that at these rates, the regime has listed just $29m of its earnings while around $4.8bn is unaccounted for.
As a result of this revenue, Total and Chevron are a “leading external factor contributing to the regime’s intransigence” and a primary reason why international and domestic pressure on the military junta has so far been ineffective, asrgue ERI.
The report says that “reliable sources” have indicated that the Burmese military regime’s portion of the Yadana earnings are located in two leading offshore banks in Singapore – the Overseas Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC), which holds the majority of the revenue, and DBS Group. ERI says that OCBC is Singapore’s longest established local bank.
“The military elite are hiding billions of dollars of the peoples’ revenue in Singapore while the country needlessly suffers under the lowest social spending in Asia,” said ERI Burma Project Coordinator Matthew Smith, a principal author of the reports. “The revenue from this pipeline is the regime’s lifeline and a critical leverage point that the international community could use to support the people of Burma,” he added.
Despite this Chevron and Total continue to tell investors that there is no relationship between the pipeline and the junta.
ERI is calling Chevron and Total to publish all the payments they have made to the Burmese military. They are calling on the international community to apply targeted multilateral pressure to block misappropriated revenues from international capital markets and to restrict transactions to and from the relevant accounts.
“Total and Chevron claim abuses have stopped in connection to their project but it’s simply untrue,” said ERI Program Coordinator Naing Htoo, coordinator of ERI’s investigations in Burma. “Forced labor, killings and other abuses are being committed by Total and Chevron’s security forces while the companies mislead and lie to the international community about their impacts.”
It you want to be outraged – read the report here.