Blood on their hands? Squeeze on junta’s corporate sponsors reaches French oil giant Total

Extinction rebellion activists at French petrochemical firm Total’s headquarters in Paris.  Photo: Stephane Ferrer Yulianti / Courtesy
Extinction rebellion activists at French petrochemical firm Total’s headquarters in Paris. Photo: Stephane Ferrer Yulianti / Courtesy

Activists poured fake blood in front of the Paris offices of a French petrochemical firm Thursday and held aloft photos representing the more than 300 killed by Myanmar security forces. One man wrote junta leader Min Aung Hlaing’s name in bloody letters on one of its walls.

The guerilla protest was staged to put pressure on Total to stop enriching Myanmar’s generals by cutting ties to their state-run gas and oil company as part of a global campaign to cut off the army’s supply of money.

“Total is complicit in the grave violations of human rights in Myanmar after the Feb. 1 coup d’etat,” said Vincent Brossel, a spokesperson for Info-Birmanie, a Burmese diaspora group in France.

His group staged the action with activist collective Extinction Rebellion, Greenpeace, members of the Myanmar community and others to call on Total to sever ties with Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise, or SOGE. Total operates a massive offshore gas project called Yadana, of which it owns nearly a third.

That project has led to decades of accusations that Total, along with Chevron, have enabled severe human rights abuses in Myanmar.

Extinction rebellion activists at French petrochemical firm Total's headquarters in Paris. Photo: Stephane Ferrer Yulianti / Courtesy
Extinction rebellion activists at French petrochemical firm Total’s headquarters in Paris. Photo: Stephane Ferrer Yulianti / Courtesy

Htin Kyaw Lwin, president of La Communaute Birmane de France, said that’s why it is imperative for the international community to do better and end its longtime tolerance – or outright support – of the Tatmadaw, as Myanmar’s military is called.

“Since the 1990s, Total has been implicated in grave human rights violations in Myanmar. The Myanmar military displaced villagers in order to build its Yadana pipeline,” he told Coconuts Yangon. “The natural gas revenues have been funnelled from Total into shadow accounts at MOGE. After the military coup d’etat, there has been no accountability and transparency.”

In 2019 alone, Total paid US$257 million in taxes to Myanmar, which activist group Justice for Myanmar likely makes it the government’s single biggest source of revenue. In turn, Total E&P Myanmar, a Total subsidiary, pocketed $85 million before taxes in 2019.

While providing “security” to build the pipeline, Myanmar’s army killed, tortured, abused and forced people into labor, according to a 2004 report by EarthRights International.

In 2005, Total paid EUR5.2 million (US$6.1 million) to settle a lawsuit without admitting wrongdoing brought by eight Myanmar people who said they were forced to work against their will.

We wanted to know if Total was reevaluating its relationship with Myanmar’s military government, how it is using its considerable influence to send it a message, and if it takes any responsibility, as the activists allege. A reporter was asked by a company rep to submit questions in writing, but they went unanswered.

Earlier this month, Total said it condemns rights violations “anywhere,” in a tweet that ominously closed saying, “As a reminder, Yadana gas supplies 50% of Yangon’s electricity.”

Shut it off then, a number of people replied.

It’s just one company coming under mounting international pressure on foreign players propping up the regime through highly profitable investments in natural gas projects.

Extinction rebellion activists at French petrochemical firm Total's headquarters in Paris. Photo: Stephane Ferrer Yulianti / Courtesy
Extinction rebellion activists at French petrochemical firm Total’s headquarters in Paris. Photo: Stephane Ferrer Yulianti / Courtesy

According to Justice for Myanmar, Total, Chevron, South Korean steelmaker Posco and Malaysia’s Petronas all have significant oil and gas investments with Myanmar’s military, providing a key source of revenue for a regime accused of genocide, human rights abuses and crimes against humanity.

“The military’s business is like a massive institutional cartel that generates large profits for the military and top generals in the junta, stolen from the people. All military-controlled businesses and their significant business associates must be subject to targeted sanctions. All businesses must cut ties with the Myanmar military and suspend payments to the junta. The cartel must be dismantled,” Justice For Myanmar spokesperson Yadanar Maung told Coconuts Yangon.

Even officials in buttoned-down Singapore have been put on their back foot, struggling to justify dubious business dealings in Myanmar, from possible sanctions violations and weapon sales to its stock market being used to finance the Tatmadaw through graft.

On March 19, French power giant Electricite de France suspended its US$1.5 billion Shweli-3 dam project in Myanmar.

A few weeks earlier, pressure from Australian civil society prompted energy giant Woodside to say it would put all of its Myanmar business on hold and pull out an offshore drilling team until things improved. Woodside shared a 40% joint venture with Total and local company MPRL in a gas field off the coast of Rakhine.

If you're gonna share your opinions for free on the Internet, why not do it for a chance to win some exciting prizes? Take our 2021 Coconuts Reader Survey now!

READ MORE

CITY: YANGONCATEGORY: NEWS

Leave a Reply

Coconuts TV
Our latest and greatest original videos
Subscribe on