Thursday, May 28, 2009

Chevron determined to retain investments in Burma

by Solomon

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Chevron Corps has made it abundantly clear that it will not pull out of Burma but would retain its investments for compelling business reasons, and even if they do withdraw they will be replaced by other competitors.

Chevron’s stance was in response to a query by Mizzima regarding the company shareholder’s proposal to disclose the criteria it uses to start and end investments in high-risk countries particularly Burma.

The proposal by, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, an advocacy group for workers, to Chevron to disclose its criteria to decide on starting investments in a country, was supported by more than 25 per cent of the company’s share holders on Wednesday.

Teamsters (IBT) said the shareholders support indicates that there is growing concern among investors on Chevron’s investments in Burma.

In 2005 Chevron began investing in Burma after taking over the shares from another US Oil company UNOCAL, joining Total of France and PTTEP of Thailand in its investments on exploration of oil and natural gas.

Human rights activists, however, have severely condemned Chevron and urged it to pull out of Burma saying its business involvement provides a financial lifeline to the Burmese military regime, which is well-known for its appalling human rights violations.

“We are pleased that other Chevron shareholders recognize the enormous legal, financial, political and risks to reputation associated with operating in Burma and are demanding increased disclosure on how these decisions are made,” Thomas Keegel, General Secretary-Treasurer of the Teamsters said in a statement released on Wednesday.

But Gareth Johnstone, Chevron Corps’ Media Advisor for Asia Pacific, told Mizzima in an email interview, “We do not disclose our investments on a country-by-country basis.”

He said, Chevron maintains health and social programmes that improve the quality of life of communities in Burma, where it operates.

“The benefits of Yadana projects community engagement programmes along the pipeline have been confirmed by multiple third-party audits,” Johnstone added.

Chevron intends to be “a force for positive change” and brings international experience and a sound approach to corporate responsibility in working with communities, he said.

“People living near the project are better off by virtue of Chevron and its partners being there,” he said.

Johnstone also said, even if Chevron pulls out of Burma “many competitors would take Chevron’s place – potentially impacting the commitment and level of CE/CR activities along with programmes and opportunities for the people of Myanmar [Burma].”

But Naing Htoo, a Burmese environmental activist, working with the Earth Rights International said, the Yadana project has brought in militarization along the pipeline and evidence speaks of severe human rights violations committed by the soldiers.

He said, as the Burmese Army is responsible for protecting the pipeline, an increasing number of army battalions have been moved along the pipeline in Karen and Mon states of southern Burma.

Rights abuses such as forced labour, land confiscation, forced relocation, rape, torture, and extra-judicial killings have increased in these states since 1992, he added.

Though the Burmese regime earns over US$ 900 million from the Yadana project from 2007, the money fills the coffers of the military and is never spent on development or social welfare programmes.

He said, while the benefits go to the military regime, the locals pay a heavy price for the pipeline and therefore urged the company to pull out of Burma.

Editing by Mungpi

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