Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Total Chief: Critics Can ‘Go to Hell’

The CEO of the French energy giant Total said critics of the company’s operations in Burma “can go to hell,” according to an interview published by Newsweek magazine on August 3.

“I am bringing gas to Thailand. Bangkok was the world’s most polluted city. They switched from oil fuel to gas. Bangkok is clean now. We are proud of being part of this,” Christophe de Margerie, CEO of Total, told the US weekly magazine.
Christophe de Margerie, CEO of Total. (Photo:

Thailand pipes about one billion cubic feet of gas per day from Burma’s offshore reserves in the southeastern Andaman Sea through the controversial Yadana gas pipeline, which human rights campaigners say has been a site of widespread abuses since its inception.

Total has been involved in the Yadana project since the 1990s, working in partnership with the US-based Unocal (now a wholly owned subsidiary of Chevron), Burma’s state-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise and Thailand’s PTT Exploration and Production Co.

Total and its partners have long been accused of turning a blind eye to serious human rights abuses committed by Burmese security forces guarding the pipeline, including forced labor, land confiscation, forced relocation, rape, torture and murder.

A brutal crackdown on monk-led protests in 2007 and the current trial of Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi have brought renewed pressure on investors in Burma’s gas and oil sector, the single largest source of hard currency for the ruling regime. Burmese pro-democracy activists say energy companies should think twice about their investments in Burma.

“Today, [rights campaigners] are trying to tell us you have no right to speak. They can go to hell. If you want to ask somebody, don’t ask Total. Ask the government of Thailand, which buys Burmese gas,” de Margerie said.

“Or ask the government of India why they have companies investing in Burma, when we froze investment. Why is South Korea, ally of the United States of America, investing in Burma? Why Total?” he added.

However, de Margerie’s claims that Total has been unfairly singled out ignores actions taken against other major investors in Burma’s energy industry.

Recently, US-based NGO EarthRights International (ERI) filed a 43-page complaint to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) calling for an investigation of the South Korean government’s respect for OECD guidelines.

The complaint, made on behalf of the Shwe Gas Movement and nine Korean-based organizations, is related to investments in Burma by Daewoo International and the Korea Gas Corporation.

Complaining that “Total is a punching bag while other companies invest without criticism is simply untrue,” said ERI project coordinator Matthew Smith, speaking to The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.

“He (de Margerie) claims that Total is proud to provide natural gas to Bangkok but at the same time he tries to deflect negative criticism to Thailand. This strategy is consistent with the way Total has handled most of the negative outcry about its presence in Burma: deny and reject any and all negative criticism.

“Total’s project has generated billions of dollars for the military regime from the peoples’ natural resources. It’s dubious at best to claim that is a positive thing for the country,” Smith said.

“Elsewhere Total has touted respect for fiscal transparency but at the same time it has not published the payments it has made to the Burmese regime—that raises serious questions,” he added.

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