UK stitched up by Burma junta
BBC special correspondent Sue Lloyd-Roberts examines how the generals have made a killing in European trade
Thursday 03 July 1997
Burma's generals might be particularly pleased with British enthusiasm for business in their country. According to their figures, Britain is in second place after Singapore in the league table of investors, with over $660m (pounds 388m) of British investors' money invested last year.
Most of this is accounted for by stakes in giant gas and oil projects, but at the manufacturing level Rangoon is festooned with British logos and trade names. At a garment factory outlet in a Rangoon shopping centre you can find labels such as, British Colony, Bay Trading, Casual Club and, most prominently, Burton.
After fish, clothes are Britain's main import from Burma. There are few American labels to be found. Leading US garment manufacturers, responding to consumer pressure, withdrew from Burma well before President Bill Clinton told them to go in May. The US clothing giant, Levi Strauss, said: "It is not possible to do business in Burma, without directly supporting the military government and its pervasive violations of human rights."
Links between the clothing business and the military are not hard to find. Posing as a manufacturer, I found the garment section of the military government's joint venture division housed in the same building as the Department of Defence Procurement, next door to Rangoon military headquarters.
When I showed Colonel Aung Sann, who is the senior officer in the Burmese military government's joint venture department in Rangoon, the list of factories which make clothes for the British market, he claimed he controlled them all.
When asked about costs and if he could compete with neighbouring Thailand which pays its garment workers an average $2 a day and China $1, he laughed, saying: "We are lower than that here, less than $1 sometimes."
At one factory run by the military, the girls said the army routinely takes half their earnings as the price of keeping their jobs. At another, where they dared protest, two truckloads of armed soldiers appeared and threatened to arrest them if they failed to return to work.
At the Unimix factory, which makes shirts supplied to Burton, a former employee says the jobs go to the families of the army.
Burma's democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, says Western companies are fooling themselves if they believe they are aiding the well being of the people by manufacturing in Burma. "The only people who benefit", she says, "is the military class." Britain is on the way to doubling its imports from Burma this year
While companies operating in Thailand and the Philippines wrestle with child labour laws, Burma with its "laissez faire" attitude is increasingly attractive. If human rights in Burma deteriorate, Britain has promised to raise the issue of sanctions against Burma with the European Union. But Burma's people could be forgiven for wondering how bad it has to get.
Burton was asked to comment but at the time of going to press had not responded.
Sue Lloyd-Roberts' report from Burma will appear on Newsnight, tonight at 10.30 on BBC2
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Weather bomb in pictures: Storms cuts power for tens of thousands – and snow is on the way
Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
Russell Brand was rendered speechless on Question Time by this man
Fury at Airbus after it hints the super-jumbo may be mothballed
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...
£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...
£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...
£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...