Toyota Divests from Burma Vehicle Manufacturer

Someone must have put vim in the Norwegian water-supply, as another humanitarian prize has gone to a critic of an autocratic and paranoiac regieme. Although Viktor Biak Lian’s activities have not brought him the same restrictions as Liu Xiaobo, this ethnic Chin activist has maintained an opposition to the Burmese junta inside and outwith the country: the newly instigated Norwegian Mission to the East now has awarded him the St. Shephan Prize for “outstanding contribution to human rights, reconciliation and religious freedoms in Burma”.

Elsewhere, Toyota Motors has announced that its affiliate, Toyota Tsusho has divested from a manufacturing venture held with the Burmese ruling Generals.

Myanmar Suzuki Motors produces high-end cars and motorcycles at sites in Burma in which, it now has been reported, Toyota sold its share back in June due to pressure from various advocacy groups. The parent company, Suzuki has no plans to halt its activities in Burma.

Generally, I am distrustful of such divestment advocacy as their primary result appears to be the organizers’ derivation of personal satisfaction. Cases could quite easily be made for certain categories of goods and services, such as military-linked and other methods of State control, but after years of sanctions against countries such as Burma and North Korea, their rulers remain in charge.

UN-led sanctions against Burma, in particular, are not being adhered to by countries such as India or Singapore or Malaysia or China. What little local employment and economic development is provided by outside investment would not be furthered by the departure of Japanese or European companies and the subsequent gold-rush from Chinese companies.

At least the former category conceivably could respond to pressure being brought to bear to establish some form of oversight on its Burmese interests.

That said, in such totalitarian regiemes, it is to be assumed that any business dealings controlled by individuals linked to the ruling clique which will then extract their own payments. And, the approximately 12,000 vehicles produced by Myanmar Suzuki Motors each year are restricted for use by the military and favoured individuals.

Furthermore, 10 years after censure by the UN for its use of forced labour, the junta continues to operate dozens of labour camps across the country as well as routine ad hoc use of civilians to complete building projects.

And, as The Irrawaddy reports, Burmese migrants in neighbouring countries can still be used as indentured servants; such as with a fishing net company in Thailand which The Irrawaddy reports is with-holding documents, and Malaysian gangsters who see Burmese migrants as easy picking for the sex-trade or menial work as seen in Channel4’s Unreported World.

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