'Dirty list' firms to pull out of Burma

PwC re-evaluates links * WPP's office likely to close * Government encouraged by withdrawals
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The advertising giant WPP, PricewaterhouseCoopers and the cruise company Carnival were yesterday considering withdrawing from Burma after the Government and human rights campaigners stepped up action against companies that support the country's military dictatorship.

P&O Cruises, through its parent, Carnival, the global auditing company Ernst & Young and WPP were all yesterday added to the "dirty list" of companies that operate in the country by the Burma Campaign UK, as were 3 Mobile and Superdrug through their parent, Hutchison Whampoa.

PwC was already on the list but yesterday wrote to the Burma Campaign UK to confirm that its interest in Burma is being "re-evaluated".

WPP said it was reviewing the future of its office "as a matter of urgency" and it is understood that is it very close to closure. The company only acquired an office in Burma through its recent and protracted acquisition of Cordiant.

P&O Cruises has been put on the list because Carnival operates holidays in the region. Carnival said it too was unlikely to continue operating there.

"Seabourn Cruises, which is part of Carnival, occasionally visited Myanmar in the past. Given recent political activities in Burma, we feel we must responsibly reconsider the impact of any additional visits to Myanmar," a spokesman for Carnival yesterday said.

While PwC in the UK said it had "no presence or associations with any organisations in Burma", one member company of the global PwC network does have "an ownership interest in an entity operating in Burma" that is now under review.

Superdrug and 3 Mobile yesterday sought to distance themselves from Hutchison Whampoa. Hutchison operates a port in Burma. Superdrug and 3 Mobile said they had no interests there. No one from Hutchison, which is headquartered in Hong Kong, was yesterday available for comment.

The high-profile withdrawals will pile on the pressure on British American Tobacco, already under siege from the Government to withdraw.

The Government is against any British company investing or operating in Burma and has said that it will not provide support to any company doing so. It has increased pressure on British companies to withdraw after Aung San Suu Kyi, the elected leader of Burma who has been denied power by the military dictatorship, was arrested by the regime in May.

This led the Government to tell British American Tobacco, chaired by Kenneth Clarke, to end to its operations there. BAT runs a joint venture in the country of which the Burmese dictatorship and its generals are the direct beneficiaries. In light of the request, BAT has said it will review its position, but has yet to reach a decision.

The Government yesterday said it was encouraged by news that more British companies were reviewing their position.

"No British company should be investing in Burma. There are compelling moral reasons not to do so," a spokesman from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office said yesterday.

Burma Campaign UK has been naming companies that operate in or have links to Burma since December, and its list totals 79 companies. Premier Oil was one of the most recent major investors to withdraw, followed by tour operators Kuoni and Abercrombie & Kent. Since their listing by Burma Campaign UK both said they will cease to operate there, as have Travelsphere, Scott Dunn and Silk Steps.

Ernst & Young said yesterday it does not operate directly in Burma. "Ernst & Young firms in countries that do not have a trade embargo against Myanmar refer those clients who need business assistance to a 'technical assistance' firm, U Tin Win. Neither Ernst & Young Global, nor any of its firms, has any interest whatsoever in the technical assistance firm," said a statement.

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