OCTOBER 1997 · VOLUME 18 · NUMBER 10
B E H I N D T H E L I N E S
TEXACO IS LEAVING BURMA. The oil company announced in September that it will sell its stake in a natural gas project off of Burma's coast. The Burmese democratic movement and its supporters claimed victory following the announcement, although the company claimed its decision was unrelated to political pressure from either grassroots movements or the U.S. ban on new investments in Burma.
The Burmese democratic movement has targeted foreign investors in oil and gas projects, urging them to pull out of Burma because earnings from those projects are fueling the ruling junta, the State Law and Order Council (SLORC). SLORC has a right to a 15 percent stake in the gas project from which Texaco has withdrawn.
Texaco sold its stake to Premier Oil of the United Kingdom. Activists hope the new Labor Government in the United Kingdom will impose sanctions on Burma and pressure Premier to pull out of the project. The other project partner, Petronas of Malaysia, is thought to lack the technical expertise to manage the project alone, meaning the entire venture could conceivably collapse in the near future.
"We welcome Texaco's gesture," says Bo Hla-Tint, spokesperson for the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, "but we also appeal to Premier to seriously reconsider the deal with Burma's illegitimate regime. We believe it is against the current trend of the UK government's Burma policy and the position of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the legitimately elected National League for Democracy, who advocates no foreign investment with SLORC."
Meanwhile, U.S. activists are turning their attention to other U.S. companies with operations in Burma. "Now that Texaco realizes that Burma is no place to do business, how can ARCO and Unocal justify dealing with this brutal regime?" asks Pamela Wellner, campaign coordinator of Free Burma: No Petro-dollars for SLORC. "If they stay, we will continue boycotting ARCO products and intensify ongoing efforts against Unocal."
WHO SAID the higher they come, the harder they fall? The high and mighty in South Korea are being given an awfully soft landing. The South Korean government decided in September to grant amnesty to 23 businesspeople, including the heads of seven giant conglomerates convicted earlier of bribery or embezzlement, according to reports in the Korea Herald.
The heads of the seven conglomerates (Samsung, Daewoo, Dong-A, Jinro, Daelim, Dongbus and Daeho) were sentenced last December in connection with bribery schemes that led to the imprisonment of former presidents Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae-woo. Also given amnesty were 14 executives from Hyundai, who were convicted in a separate embezzlement scheme connected to presidential politics.
The amnesty for the business executives is an expected prelude to a grant of amnesty to the two presidents.
The reason for the amnesty decision, which was reached at a cabinet meeting headed by Prime Minister Koh Kun, said Justice Minister Kim Jong-koo, was to "raise the morale of businessmen as a whole, so they can devote themselves again to boosting the national economy."
The South Korean economy has witnessed much slowed growth in recent years, and the country is running a significant trade deficit.
A government spokesperson told the Korea Herald that other convicted businesspeople would soon be granted amnesty also.
NEARLY TWO THIRDS OF GARMENT SHOPS investigated in New York City violate U.S. minimum wage and overtime laws. The U.S. Department of Labor's first ever investigation-based compliance survey in New York found 63 percent of city shops breaking the law. Investigators found more than 1,400 garment workers due more than $412,300 in back wages. Most of the wages have now been restored.
The Department of Labor's survey, released in October, followed earlier department surveys in Los Angeles and San Francisco. The Los Angeles survey showed comparable rates of law-breaking, while the San Francisco survey showed a higher rate of compliance.
The New York survey revealed that very few of the contractors are monitored by the manufacturers for whom they sew -- fewer than 10 percent. This low figure contrasts sharply with Los Angeles, where nearly half of all shops were monitored.
"The results clearly suggest that manufacturers should be monitoring contractor shops more," says Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman.
The earlier surveys strongly suggest that monitoring improves compliance levels. In Los Angeles, 61 percent of monitored shops were in compliance with overtime requirements, compared to only 25 in non-monitored shops. In San Francisco, 87 percent of monitored shops were in compliance with overtime rules; 68 percent of non-monitored shops were in compliance.
The New York survey showed rampant law-breaking in some locales, most notably Chinatown. Investigators found that nearly nine out of 10 contractors in Chinatown in Manhattan were violating the wage or overtime laws. The Department of Labor says it will concentrate enforcement efforts in Chinatown to crack down on sweatshop operators.