William, responsible investment in Burma is really nothing without proper monitoring
This morning Foreign Ministers of G8 countries will meet in London and one of the items on the agenda will be how to develop a framework for responsible international investment in Burma.
Since 2010 the government of Burma has made serious efforts to shake off its global pariah status. It set Aung San Suu Kyi free from house arrest and legalised the political participation of her National League for Democracy party which lead to her election as an MP in 2012. Some political prisoners were also released and media freedoms were increased.
Encouraged by these reforms, governments, particularly in the rich G8 and EU, have been eager to ease or eliminate economic sanctions which would allow companies to get a toe-hold in the Burmese market. Whilst Burma’s political reforms should be encouraged, it is important that G8 countries use their leverage as investors so that the Burmese state makes more progress.
It is still very far from being a state that respects human rights as the recent shocking sexual violence committed by security forces against ethic minorities (who make up 40% of the country) , the imprisonment of trade unionists and the widespread use of forced labour shows.
Sadly unscrupulous businesses will see weak labour regulation in Burma as an asset as it makes labour cheaper and more pliable. This is why the TUC and its sister union confederations across the G8 are calling for G8 Foreign Ministers to push for a Commission for Responsible and Accountable Investment to be established in Burma which would better ensure that businesses respect human rights and labour rights and victims of abuses have access to adequate remedy.
There are encouraging signs that the EU is pushing for a monitoring mechanism that would require companies doing business with Burma to undertake human rights due diligence and disclosure of their supply chains and policies.
Without such checks in place, foreign investment is likely to bolster the strength of the Burma’s abusive regime. If the G8 countries care about the human rights in Burma as much as they say they do, today they should commit to creating meaningful ways to protect workers and citizens from violence and repression. And as the minister from the host country, Mr Hague, the polite thing would be for you to lead the way.