Responsible Consumerism & Burma
_According to the United Kingdom’s Trade and Investment website, the British Government currently does not encourage trade and investment in Burma. Furthermore, it offers no commercial services to companies wishing to trade or invest there. Thus, UK investment in Burma is considered negligible.
The European Union also has sanctions in place against Burma. Further details of these sanctions can be found at the European Commission and Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO).
Businesslink's website also offers further guidance about sanctions on Burma.
Even though the British government might consider any investments in Burma currently negligible, Burma Campaign UK disagrees - particularly when accounting for the travel, timber, gems and clothing sectors. It is estimated that in these sectors alone there is an annual investment of £1.2bn. However, the British government only accounts for less than £500,000. The Burmese government puts the figure at 1.404 billion invested in 2002 alone for up to 37 enterprises. (Although companies aren't listed by name, the Burmese government's figures on foreign investment can be found here: http://www.mofa.gov.mm/aboutmyanmar/fdi.html)
_Burma Campaign UK also mentions Total Oil as being a major investor in Burma. However, the information on their website is now dated as it has not been updated since 2009. The Independent reported a US $5 billion deal in 2009. It is difficult to know whether Total Oil continues to invest in Burma or not, but it is definitely one of the major investors from the UK.
What about other big companies? The most notable British company on the list is the aerospace engine group Rolls-Royce. In 2007, Rolls-Royce defended its work in Burma, insisting it was limited to the overhaul of three engines for two airlines which was carried out to ensure they were safe to operate and did not "result in passenger fatalities". A spokesman added: "We are not seeking any further business beyond this very limited overhaul work."
There is currently an arms embargo (this embargo covers weapons and ammunition, weapon and non-weapon platforms and ancillary equipment; it also covers spare parts, repairs, maintenance and transfer of military technology) and other restrictions in force on Burma. This is an EU-imposed embargo which has been implemented in UK law.
There is a lot of speculation at the moment about which companies will rush in when sanctions are lifted - at the moment they are mostly Asian firms focusing on raw materials.
The internet gives us another wonderful tool to help us support local enterprises in Burma from the UK. Below you can find a few ways to invest in Burmese initiatives that support human rights.
You can support Burmese women by shopping for hand-weaved, traditional goods from WEAVE, Women's Education for Advancement and Empowerment, which was started in 1990 to provide sustainable work for Burmese refugee women, particularly those from ethnic groups that are discriminated against inside the country. Go to www.weave-women.org to check out their shop and what they do. WEAVE also runs an Early Childhood Development Program, a health education project, and other essential initiatives. They also offer internships and are always looking for volunteers.
Consider buying a copy of the Irrawaddy. Here’s how this invaluable independent newspaper describes itself: “The Irrawaddy products promote independent media and press freedom for Burma while offering both readers and supporters something distinctive, memorable and inspiring - either as a special gift or as a memento for your own enjoyment.”
Your purchase of unique Irrawaddy gifts and products support The Irrawaddy and independent, media publications for Burma.
_Buying jewelry? As mentioned before, Burma’s government acquires a large amount of investment through the gem trade. Because of loopholes international trade continues to provide for certain illicit goods, it is sometimes possible for rubies from Burma to make it through the UK border.
(To read more about Burmese rubies, check out this Daily Mail article)
For a while, organizations supporting Burma in the United States had an active campaign going trying to discern if there were specific jewelry companies that carried Burmese rubies. On a typical shopping day, you might be able to further help efforts to figure out if there are any UK companies selling illicit rubies.
Here are some steps to take in order to partake in responsible awareness-raising boycotts:
1) Be honest. When you enter a jewelry shop, ask to see some rubies. Do not say you’re there to buy a ruby if you’re not interested in honestly buying one. But you can always say you’re there to see some.
2) Ask for origin. Ask the sales aid if they know where the ruby was originally mined. If they reply that they do not know, then ask to see a certificate of authenticity. More often than not, information can be found there. But if it isn’t, then ask if it would be possible to get such information.
3) If the ruby is from Burma, do NOT challenge the sales aid. Do NOT confront them that the sale of Burmese rubies is illegal. Instead, promote a different discourse: explain that you are a supporter of Burmese human rights, and in a succinct sentence explain some of the brutal conditions experienced by Burmese miners. Tell them that because of the origin of the ruby, you can not buy it, for it would mean supporting injustice and unfair regime.
4) Remain composed. Be friendly. Be polite. Don’t think you have to generate a buzz for your opinion to be heard. Most people aren’t ethical consumers when it comes to jewelry--seldom do buyers ask where a product was mined. Thus, you can rest assured your comment will be passed on to the manager, who will pass it on to corporate. Few people come into jewelry stores explaining they won’t purchase a product in the name of human rights.