Thursday, April 20, 2006


Dear Total.......(part 2)

11 days after our e-mail to Mr. Lassalle we have finally recieved a reply; one denying British American Tobacco ever really left Burma, denying the rape of the Burmese girl by soldiers guarding Total's pipline, blaming HIV/AIDS in Burma on sanctions and on Aung San Suu Kyi stating:
"Elections may give legitimacy, but they doesn't necessarily make you right."
So another piece of cooporate spin beffed up with lengthy quotes from reports (bizzarley enough from other investors in Burma) churned out to defend Total's funding of the are the highlights:

On BAT withdrawing from Burma:
One thing is certain - according to press reports (see Associated Press Worldstream "British American Tobacco announces Myanmar divestment plan" and Company News Feed "British American Tobacco to sell its holding in Myanmar/Burma", both dated November 6, 2003), Rothman's brand "London" and "State Express 555" cigarettes are still produced under licence (as before) for local sale. So it is only that the equity arrangements have changed.

On Aung San Suu Kyi calling for sanctions:
However worthy the thoughts in ASSK's message may be, they do not convey the same message as a very comprehensive and independent report entitled "Myanmar Textile & Garment Industry - Qualitative & Desk Research" dated November 2003, to give only one example. I have only a paper copy of this report which is 102 pages long, but I have scanned and pasted below some passages for you. Â There is no doubt that the Burmese people are suffering from those sanctions.

Your statement reminds me of a famous saying of Stalin: "You are wrong because you are the minority". Elections may give legitimacy, but they doesn't necessarily make you right.

On whether Total recognise Aung San Suu Kri's legitimacy [notice how he will never directly answer this question!]:
I'm afraid your question is not the issue. It is not because we work in a particular country that we recognise its regime or endorse its political choices. As you know, there is a Mynmar Ambassador  in London, in Paris, at the EU in Brussels and in New-York. Moreover, UK, France, Italy and Germany have ambassadors in Yangon and the UN has a sizeable representation there.  Do you think your governement, the French government, the EU Parliament, or the United Nations are in agreement with the Junta because they receive their envoys and hold discussions with them ?

On the 14 year old girl raped by 16 soldiers guarding Total's pipeline:
Following the investigation into these allegations, I can assure you that the case you drew to my attention was based on a totally unfounded rumour. The girl in question was never raped. This doesn't mean to say that such a thing could never happen, but I am happy to say that in this instance, there was no such incident.

and our reply.........

Dear Mr. Lassalle,
I find some serious problems in your answers to my questions that I hope you will be able to clear up.
Firstly while I agree that BAT’s investment in Burma is a complex issue this cannot be used to justify Total’s investment. BAT products may still be produced under licence but their withdrawal from Burma sent a strong message to current and potential investors that investing in one of the worst regimes on the planet is unacceptable. This has since played a part in the disinvestment of other companies, such as Lauda Air, from Burma. A withdrawal of Total’s investments would inevitably send a similar or larger message and prove a huge move forward for the country. Furthermore BAT’s actions were welcomed by the Burma Campaign UK; an independent group working solely for human rights in Burma. I find it difficult to accept the view of a multinational (Total) making millions of dollars from their investment in Burma that BAT’s move was irrelevant, when it was hailed as such a move forward by those concerned solely with the welfare of the Burmese people.
Regarding the effectiveness of sanctions you use an industrial report to dismiss the view of a democratically elected leader. Your statement that “It is easy to claim high moral values while leading a comfortable life in Europe, far from the realities of life in Burma” seems to me somewhat hypocritical whilst you and other Total executives lead incredibly comfortable lives in Europe and refuse to withdraw whilst Aung Sung San Kyi who is current in her spent tenth year of detention in Burma calls for sanctions. I believe that Suu Kyi has far more experience and knowledge of “the realities of life in Burma” than you and the other executives at Total. If you are claiming that I am not aware of the realties of life in Burma I can assure you that as my family have lived under the regime I am more than aware of the realities.
Your claim that sanctions would hurt the people of Burma also misses a vital point; the regime, which only survives because of funding by companies such as Total, has caused infinitely more damage to the country and the people than sanctions ever have or will; I need only point you to the massacre of democracy protestors in 2003 and remind you that this is the government Total is funding.
You claim that the Medicines Sans Frontiers experienced an increase in the number of HIV/AIDS patients it treated after the closure of the Triumph factory in Burma. May I point out to you that MSF have complained that their mission is becoming increasingly ineffective due to the restrictions placed on them by the regime. For the same reason UNAIDS has been forced to pull out of Burma. The reason HIV/AIDS is becoming an ever increasing problem is not because of sanctions, it is because the regime spend 50% of its annual income on military to continue oppression and genocide and just 2% on health and education combined whilst restricting HIV/AIDS charities to a degree that they cannot effectively operate. May I also point out that HIV/AIDS has increased perhaps 100% since the regime fist took power and that one of the reasons cited for the epidemic is the widespread rape of ethnic women by the Tatmadaw. The regime, surviving on income from companies such as Total, and not sanctions, is responsible for the thousands of people suffering as you describe. Has Total ever advised the regime to spend more of the money it provides on HIV/AIDS projects than on the military? (As I am sure you are aware the entirety of Totals first payment to the regime was spent of military aircraft).
With regards to the legitimacy of Aung San Suu Kyi may I firstly suggest that comparing the sentiments of your critics to 20th century dictators is not a particularly promising move in public relations? Secondly your statement that “Elections may give legitimacy, but they doesn't [don’t?] necessarily make you right” is a fundamentally flawed and frankly bizarre justification for Total’s investments in Burma. Who is Total to judge whether the decisions of a democratically elected leader are right or wrong and then go on to directly violate these decisions? Your statement implies that your recognize Suu Kyi’s legitimacy but as you deem her decision for foreign investors not pull out of Burma to be “wrong” you have continued your investment. I can only derive from this that Total is happy to do business with anybody in control of a countries oil supply regardless of the democratically elected leaders sentiment; this is hardly an appropriate policy for a multinational claiming to “apply their best ethical standards”.
Furthermore it is inconsistent to compare diplomatic missions from the US/UK/UN etc. to Total’s investment. Diplomatic representation does not provide the funding or support of a multinational such as Total and whilst the US, UK and UN have all been openly critical of the regimes appalling human rights abuses there is a distinct absence of the same criticism from Total.
Finally whilst I am happy to here that the young girl raped by soldiers guarding Total’s pipeline was never raped excuse me for being slightly dubious of you assurances. Both Western newspapers (including the LA times) and Burmese Free Press Agencies (including Rebound88) along with several Human Rights have claimed that the girl was indeed raped. Would you be able to reassure me by telling me the form that your investigation took (were their independent investigators called in, interviews with villages, examination of the Tatmadaw etc.?) and send me a copy of the report produced? If you do not have an electronic copy of the investigations report I would be happy to provide a mailing address for a paper copy.
Yours sincerely,

You can e-mail Jean Francois Lassalle to directly tell him what you think of Total's investment at:

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