[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index
Burma uses forced labor, so trade d
Subject: Burma uses forced labor, so trade deal scrapped
BRUSSELS, Belgium (Reuter) - The European Commission called
Wednesday for special trade benefits for Burma to be scrapped
following an investigation into the use of forced labor by the
military regime in Rangoon.
The decision is a blow to Rangoon's pride, but will have
little effect on its wallet. Burmese industrial exports to
European Union countries totaled just $30 million in 1995, and
special low tariffs saved it no more than $365,000, the
``It is symbolic,'' said one Commission official. ``But the
symbolism is vitally important to SLORC.''
SLORC, the State Law and Order Restoration Council which
governs Burma, came under fire again earlier this week when the
EU issued a statement condeming police brutality while
dispersing recent student demonstrations in Rangoon.
The symbolism may be important in an international context,
too, as this was the first case to draw a direct link between
trade and abuse of basic workers' rights, an issue which greatly
excercised a meeting of world trade ministers last week.
Developing countries are concerned that linking the two
issues will open a back door for protectionists wanting to keep
products made by low-paid workers out of their home markets.
Under European law, however, trade benefits which are
unilaterally granted to developing countries to encourage
economic growth can be suspended if beneficiaries are shown to
force people to work against their will or without pay.
The Commission's recommendation will likely be approved by
EU finance ministers in January.
Investigators spent a year poring through thousands of pages
of personal accounts and hearing testimony from people who say
they have been made to work as virtual slaves, often on
infrastructure and hotel projects which SLORC hopes will bring
in much-needed foreign exchange.
According to the International Confederation of Free Trade
Unions (ICFTU), which launched the complaint, 800,000 Burmese
are forced to work without pay or against their will,
contributing around a tenth of the country's economic output.