Saturday, September 29, 2007

France and Total under fire for 'financing' regime

France and Total under fire for 'financing' regime - Independent Online Edition > Asia

By John Lichfield in Paris

Published: 29 September 2007

The French government and France's largest company, Total, were struggling yesterday to contain growing criticism of the oil company's record in Burma.

Total and the French government have rejected pleas from Burmese opposition and French trades unions and human rights group for the oil giant to suspend its activities in the Yadana gas field in southern Burma.

Critics point out Total is the largest economic operator in Burma and a significant conduit of cash to the military regime. Several human rights groups have accused Total of making use of forced or child labour – something the oil company angrily rejects.

Paris, and the company, argue that Total's presence is, on the whole, a force for good. Withdrawal would allow carte blanche for Chinese or other companies which would be "less respectful of ethical issues".

"Our departure would threaten a worsening of the situation for the (Burmese) population," Total said ina communiqué.

France's Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, this week rejected suggestions that Total is a, de facto, ally of the military junta in Rangoon. He can claim to be something of an expert on the issue. In 2003, when he was out of office, his company BK Conseil was paid to advise Total on how to improve the public image of its Burmese operations.

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