Worker shareholders stepped up their global campaign to end
corporate support for Burma’s military dictatorship at Halliburton’s
(NYSE: HAL) annual meeting on May 15. Representatives of the AFL-CIO and the
International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’
Unions (ICEM) spoke in favor of a shareholder resolution addressing the
Halliburton Co. involvement in human rights abuses in Burma. Halliburton, the
energy giant formerly headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, is one of the few
U.S.-based companies with investments in Burma — a country whose government
is noted for massive human rights violations and involvement in narcotics
Halliburton’s recent activities in Burma include its
participation in the Yadana pipeline, a project that used forced labor. The
Yadana pipeline is one of the largest foreign investments in Burma, projected
to provide the military-controlled regime with $150-$400 million annually for
Halliburton denies it does business in Burma. A report by
Kenny Bruno and Jim Valette in the May issue of Multinational Monitor
details Halliburton’s Burmese energy development projects, including the
notorious Yadana and Yetagun pipelines.
An investigation of that project concluded that
"construction and operation of the pipelines has involved the use of
forced labor, forced relocation and even murder, torture and rape," write
Bruno and Valette. "In addition, as the largest foreign investment
projects in Burma, the pipelines will provide revenue to prop up the regime,
perhaps for decades to come."
Unocal, another U.S. company doing business in Burma, is being
sued by victims of forced labor on the Yadana project. Halliburton’s
involvement in the Yadana project occurred during Vice President Cheney’s
tenure as CEO of the company.
Halliburton’s involvement in Burma predates Cheney’s
tenure as CEO and began two years after the military seized power. Under
Cheney’s leadership, however, Halliburton has been involved in partnerships
with notorious human rights-violators, and has vigorously opposed sanctions
designed to restrict corporate engagement with dictatorships.
Bruno and Valette note that "Cheney signed an amicus
brief against the Massachusetts Burma law. Modeled on successful
anti-apartheid legislation of the 1980s, the law would have prevented
Massachusetts from doing business with companies doing business in Burma. The
Massachusetts law was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court last June."
Halliburton has been instrumental in efforts to oppose
sanctions on Burma through its strong involvement with USA-Engage and the
National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC), two powerful industry groups. Vice
President Cheney last fall has publicly defended his former company’s
"If USA-Engage is successful, Halliburton may resume
dealings with the Burmese military dictatorship, a destructive engagement that
could extend Burma’s nightmare," Bruno and Valette write.
The shareholder resolution presented at the Halliburton on May
15 was sponsored by the LongView Collective Investment Fund of the Amalgamated
Bank of New York. It urges the Halliburton board of directors to report on the
company’s operations in Burma. The resolution asks what steps Halliburton
has taken to assure "that neither Halliburton nor any of its subsidiaries
is involved in or appears to benefit from the use of forced labor or other
human rights abuses in Burma."
'FORCED LABOR IS SYSTEMATIC'
"Working people who invest in Halliburton want to know if
its operations in Burma prop up a military regime which condones forced labor
and other human rights abuses," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney.
"The LongView resolution at Halliburton is a positive measure in the best
interests of its shareholders that will lead toward compliance with
internationally-recognized workers’ rights."
In November 2000, the International Labor Organization (ILO)
approved a resolution urging members to "review their relations with
Burma" and "ensure that such relations do not perpetuate the system
of forced or compulsory labour in that country."
"The ILO has clearly ruled that forced labor is
continuing and systematic in Burma, and our energy unions in that region have
made their views very plain," said Fred Higgs, ICEM General Secretary.
"We call upon Halliburton to disinvest from Burma. We cannot condone any
economic activity which directly or indirectly supports the regime in Burma
until full democracy and human rights, including workers’ rights, are
A recent proclamation issued by the ICEM’s energy union
affiliates from the Asia/Pacific region, meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, called
on oil and gas companies to "cease investment in Burma while the use of
forced labor continues." The unions represented were from Australia,
Bangladesh, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan,
Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. The ICEM is a global
trade union federation uniting 20 million workers in over 400 affiliated
unions in 110 countries. UE is a member.
The situation in Burma violates the ILO Declaration on
Fundamental Principle and Rights at Work, including the right to no forced
labor. Unions around the world have recently launched a campaign to make sure
workers know these rights, distributing an ILO-produced poster in workplaces
and communities worldwide.
UE News - 05/01