Saturday, November 17, 2007

AVAAZ's Boycott on Total Oil, Chevron, and Their Subsidiaries


***The petitions and pledges are now up to 19.***

AVAAZ also is launching a global boycott of Total Oil and Chevron and all their subsidiaries that operate in Burma. You can sign AVAAZ's pledge HERE. By hitting them straight in their bottom line, AVAAZ hopes to press these corporations to either push Burma to democratic reform, or to leave the country entirely.

I will say though, while many Western Burma-related NGOs and advocacy networks believe that a complete pullout of Western companies doing business in Burma is the quickest, surefire way to weaken the junta and bring about political change in the troubled nation, the situation is not as clearcut. While companies operating in Burma can use their leverage to enact political change, company pullout can create a power vacuum, creating the conditions for even more abusive (Chinese or other energy-hungry Asian) companies to fill in the void. Chinese, Malaysian, Korean companies would readily, easily, and quickly answer the call for investment.

I have heard that Burmese on the ground are actually against a pullout of Western companies. The are afraid that if Western companies leave, Asian companies with poorer human rights records will move in. In the historic Doe vs. Unocal Case involving the construction of the Yadana pipeline, the verdict held that Unocal WAS liable for human rights abuses committed by SPDC troops hired by the oil company. Some think a more effective way to uphold human rights in Burma, especially in areas where multinationals invest, is to put pressure on Western companies to operate in a responsible manner. The Corporate Social Responsibility discourse is much more predominant and established in the West than in the East, where many countries are still subject to the "race to the bottom" for development. Hence, advocating for Western companies to observe CSR is a more suitable option on which Western activists can rely. Moreover, I personally doubt that enough companies will pull out in a short timeframe to create serious cash flow problems for the junta.

Journalist and author Ross Gelbspan has put forth the following theory in his book about climate change The Heat is On. If a totalitarian state (like Burma) suffers from severe economic instability (such as one that would occur from a massive investor pullout), the conditions would be ripe for GREATER, not lesser human rights abuses. It's the same old Asian Values argument that says economic considerations and the right to development come before civil and political rights. By supervising companies who invest in Burma and getting them to responsibly operate, the hope is that multinationals can counteract human rights abuses.

Another petition: Sign Earthrights International's petition urging Chevron to use its influence to help stop the crackdown, and to stop investing in Burma HERE.