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NY Times Editorial

The following editorial ran in the New York Times following a letter 
we wrote to the Times in response to an article about the pipeline
which ran on Sunday, December 8, 1996

The full text of the original letter follows the editorial. Obviously, 
the Times took much of their information from the letter, arriving 
at a similar position.

If you are so inclined, please fax the Times in support of their
position and fill them in on other details as you see fit.
Fax your letter to Kris Wells, Letters to the Editor, fax: 212/556-3622. 

I'm sure Unocal will be responding with their own position.

For Nature,
Tim Keating, Rainforest Relief/Burma UN Service Office

New York Times Editorial, Dec. 16, 1996

Politics should not be an issue for international 
corporations, says a spokesman for the
California-based energy company Unocal, the single 
largest American investor in the
Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar. He was replying 
to suggestions that Unocal pull out of Myanmar. 
Business executives, as they like to point out, 
are not social workers. But at times a government 
is so repressive and a company's support of it so 
significant that its presence cannot help but be 
political. South Africa under apartheid was such a
country. Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is another, 
and Unocal should not be doing business there.

For sheer nastiness, few governments can compete with 
Myanmar's. It winks at heroin trafficking. It forces 
its citizens to provide slave labor to build bridges 
and railroads. In 1990 the Government lost elections, 
then imprisoned and harassed activists of the victorious 
party, led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Last week the 
Government confined her to her house, detained more of 
her colleagues and shut down secondary schools to stop 
student protests. She has called for sanctions on her country.

Myanmar, which has hard-currency reserves that can sustain 
the country for less than three weeks, is vulnerable. 
Hence the importance of Unocal's 28 percent interest in a
pipeline that will pump gas from an off-shore field through 
Myanmar to Thailand. The French company Total will build 
the pipeline, and the Thai and Myanmar Government energy 
companies also have stakes. Texaco and Arco also recently 
signed deals to drill nearby.

As of last year, Unocal had paid the Government $6.6 
million in signing bonuses. Such fees are normal, but 
what is not normal was the bailout Unocal gave Myanmar 
in November. The company provided $7 million worth of 
fertilizer on credit to be paid back when the pipeline 
is running - a small but important lifeline for the Government.

Unocal may also be indirectly making profits from reprehensible 
labor practices. The railroad that will transport Government troops 
to protect the pipeline was built by thousands of forced laborers. 
Human rights groups have charged that the Government relocated 
villages around the pipeline and used forced labor to clear the land. 
Unocal denies those charges. The government has not yet permitted 
an independent investigation.

Unocal is spending $1.6 million to build projects such as schools, 
animal-breeding farms and a hospital, and has brought 12 doctors 
to the area. These projects are welcome, but their good does not 
outweigh the harm of Unocal's support for a government that does 
not do them on its own.

Unocal argues that an Asian company would simply pick up its share 
of the project if it pulled out. That is plausible, and underscores 
the need for the United States to do more to lobby Japan and the 
Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which has said it will 
admit Myanmar.

But even this does not justify Unocal's continued engagement with 
Myanmar's Government. Other American corporations, including 
Macy's and a Disney clothing subsidiary, have already pulled out, 
responding to publicity and laws approved by Massachusetts and 
eight cities that bar contracts with companies doing business in 
Myanmar. Congress has passed a law banning new investment if the 
crackdown intensifies, but the Clinton Administration has not yet 
invoked it.

The $200 million in annual revenues expected to flow to Myanmar's 
Government when the pipeline is running will dwarf the benefits 
produced by other American investments. The pipeline's importance, 
and Unocal's apparent willingness to help sustain the Government, 
undercut the argument that constructive engagement can change the 
policies of the Burmese leadership. Unocal may make a handsome
profit in Myanmar, but it cannot claim it is bringing change to this 
blighted nation.

To the Editor:
Your December 8th article about the Total/Unocal/SLORC gas pipeline 
through Burma was extremely one-sided in its portrayal of Unocal as 
a humanitarian corporate good-guy. This is far from the truth. 
Unocal stands to make billions from the pipeline over the ensuing 
years. By its very nature, the deal is immersed in politics, contrary 
to Unocal's statements. 

Unocal is wrong when it says "they are simply oilmen_and should not 
be held accountable for the behavior of their host country." It is 
this claim, based not on reality, but fantasy, that has attempted to 
cover the stink of corporations while they wipe out lives, cultures 
and the environment in other, less industrialized countries. At 
this very moment weapons purchased with money from US investments 
are being used to squash pro-democracy demonstrators.

Missing from your report were any comments by those opposed to the 
project. The National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma 
(NCGUB) is made up of elected representatives of the 1990 general 
elections, democratically chosen by the people of Burma. After the 
National League for Democracy, led by Aung SanSuu Kyi, won more 
than 82% of the seats in Parliament, the State Law and Order 
Restoration Council (SLORC) refused to yield power.

The SLORC uses forced labor, torture and rape to get what it wants, 
kills dissenters at will and has created a country where the citizens 
are in constant fear. Opposition brings quick reprisal. The only 
reason Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is still alive is that she has become 
an international figure. Others who have opposed the SLORC are not 
so fortunate.

Because of Unocal's refusal to abide by the demands of the elected 
government, the SLORC stands to reap billions from its part in the 
pipeline deal. None of this income will help the people of Burma, 
since the SLORC spends almost half of its budget on weapons, while 
spending less than 20% on social programs. The government is at war 
with no one except its own people.

Unocal is also not being responsible to its shareholders, since any 
contracts made during the reign of the illegitimate military government 
will need to be reviewed by the democratic government when it regains 
control. Since the social and environmental impacts of the pipeline 
are enormous, it is likely that the project will not continue in its 
current form. The pipeline has already had a devastating impact on 
Burma's rainforests, and future impacts on marine life are certain. 
Unocal is being loose with its shareholders' money.

SLORC-guided tours for journalists do not include visits with any 
opposed to the project, such as those forced into labor for roads 
and other infrastructure and those who were forcefully relocated 
and/or fled to Thailand as refugees. Showpieces such as a few 
schoolhouses are far outweighed by the impact the pipeline will have 
on the countryside and its people, and are crumbs compared to the 
billions Unocal stands to make.

Big international corporations are immersed in politics, whether they 
would like us to think so or not. Simply claiming that "politics 
should not be an issue" for them does not make the truth go away.
Unocal is funding the SLORC. They are involved in politics.

Unocal has chosen to deal with thugs and hide behind false statements 
of non-interference.

The people of Burma who elected Aung San Suu Kyi's party to lead the 
country know better. The democratically-elected Prime Minister has 
called for companies to cease investments in Burma until democracy 
is restored. If Unocal was truly apolitical, it would abide by the 
wishes of the Burmese people and do just that.


Dr. Thaung Htun, Representative for UN Affairs
National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma