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British oil firm linked to child sl

Manchester Guardian Weekly
August 9, 2000

British oil firm linked to child slavery in Burma

BYLINE: Maggie O'Kane

     A British company, Premier Oil, went ahead with an $ 800m project to 
pipe gas through Burma
despite warnings that its partner, the Burmese military, was using slave 
labour -- including children -- on
the pipeline, according to an internal report.

Premier's American partner, Texaco, pulled out of Burma in 1997 after 
pressure from the United States
government. But although the British government asked Premier to leave in 
April, the company has

The Burmese have been accused of using "security" issues in the pipeline 
area of Tanasserim to drive
ethnic Karen people from the land. There are now 120,000 Karen living in 
refugee camps, and human
rights groups say at least 30,000 have been killed.

The report said the army was extorting money from local people and using 
children and forced unpaid
labour -- described by the special United Nations rapporteur to Burma as a 
modern form of slavery --
to build military barracks.

"The harsh conditions of those carrying out the labour, including young 
children, and the testimony of
local people, [belie] the [Burmese] government claim that such work is 
voluntary," said the report.

Charles Jamieson, Premier Oil's chief executive, said he was unaware of any 
military barracks
constructed in the area, and he would have to check the location.

Premier said it was aware of the contents of the report, but said it had 
not been in charge of the pipeline
-- just a member of the consortium -- when the abuses occurred*. It said it 
reported any abuses it
encountered to the "relevant authorities".

Wilfred Wong of the Jubilee Campaign, the London-based human rights 
organisation, said: "It is
nonsense for Premier to say it reports abuses to the 'relevant 
authorities'. The relevant authorities are the
Burmese military. Premier should admit they are working with mass murderers."

Mr Jamieson insisted that since its takeover of the pipeline from Texaco in 
1997 Premier had ensured
that work was carried out according to the highest "international 
employment standards".

People who worked on the pipeline told Earth Rights International that the 
"Englishmen" (a name the
Karen use for white foreigners) knew of what was going on. A 15-year-old 
girl interviewed by Earth
Rights said: "I had to clear bushes and other things. While we were 
working, there were two English
guys watching us. On the first two days the English came and gave us 200 
kyt ($ 1.60) for a day.

"On the third day the soldiers came back again and said, 'Your work 
yesterday was not good enough.'
We didn't see any English and we didn't get paid."

Burma's democratic leader, the Nobel peace prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi, 
who has been held under
house arrest for the past 10 years, has said Premier "should be ashamed of 
itself" for continuing to give
moral and financial support to the military government.

* [Note by David Arnott: Premier has been involved in Burma since before 
the days of SLORC.
The company announced in July 1986 that it had agreed to purchase Burmah 
Oil Exploration Ltd.
In 1990, Premier signed two  production-sharing contracts with Myanma Oil 
and Gas Enterprise, and
subsequently brought in Texaco and Nippon Oil as partners. The 
International Labour Organisation
has expressed concern over forced labour in Burma since the 1960s, and 
since at least 1990,
the US State Dept's Country Reports on Burma have referred to forced or 
compulsory labour]