Rights Groups Condemn Oil Giants’ Burmese Pipeline

By participating in the Yadana gas pipeline project in Burma, Western oil giants Total and Chevron are financing the country’s brutal military junta, Earth Rights International charges in two new reports on the pipeline. That in turn allows the junta to continue its ongoing campaign of repression and siphon off billions of dollars in income, the group maintains.

“Total and Chevron have essentially provided the military regime with its single largest lifeline, that being the revenue generated from the project,” Matthew Smith, coordinator of ERI’s Burma project told the BBC.

ERI’s reports allege that the two companies have ignored abuses by the Burmese army, which supplies security for the pipeline, including forced labor, extrajudicial killings and widespread corruption. They also charge the companies with simultaneously misleading the international community over the effects of their socio-economic improvement programs in the region. Total and Chevron have repeatedly denied any relation to alleged abuses.

Burmese authorities, ERI alleges, have kept most of the pipeline’s income out of official budgets, instead stashing around $5 billion dollars in overseas, Singapore-based banks.

“Total and Chevron continue to share an exceedingly close relationship to the notorious Burma army, a required and unspoken feature of doing business in Burma’s extractive industries. . . . [This] gives companies little to no opportunity to avoid complicity in the foreseeable behavior of their business partner, and thus a company’s decision to proceed with a large-scale development project in military-ruled Burma is in itself a dubious choice with serious ethical and legal dimensions,” ERI says in one of the reports (.pdf).

The Yadana project has been controversial since its launch in the 1990s, with rights groups routinely blasting the abuses that accompany it, and arguing that the related financial windfall is a key reason the junta has been able to withstand international diplomatic pressure and economic sanctions.