Shaming Chevron to Help Myanmar

UPDATE! There’s good news! As of January 21, TotalEnergies and Chevron are withdrawing from their lucrative Myanmar gas project citing worsening human rights in the country after last year’s military coup.

We launched the campaign I described below in April 2021, as the Burma Chevron Coalition. Since then I have participated in weekly coalition calls. The dual strategy was to pressure directly Chevron and Total to stop funding the military through payments from their offshore natural gas project. We worked with allied organizations, mainly from the Burmese diaspora, in Asia Pacific countries and Europe. Their Blood Money Campaign using widespread social media seems to have made a decisive contribution.

What remains to be done is to pass the Burma Bill, which would provide for the targeted sanctions that would allow Chevron and Total to channel all remaining payments into escrow accounts not accessible to the military junta. That bill has been reported out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee with unanimous support by Democrats and Republicans. But the Biden administration, due to previous lobbying by Chevron and perhaps for unclear geopolitical reasons, has refused to act. This is now the time to act, as the murderous military assault continues to kill or drive out tens of thousands of civilians in ethnic areas of Burma and as the February 1 anniversary of the coup approaches. Contact your Representative or Senator now. More details if you request by direct response to the author and the Coalition..

The world has watched in horror as the government of Myanmar has brutally and ruthlessly moved to end dissent and any vestige of hopes for democracy in that country. At the same time, the resistance of those within the country has inspired international solidarity.

On March 28, the DSA International Committee and the Democratic Socialist Labor Commission posted a statement in English and Burmese in solidarity with the workers’ and people’s movement in Myanmar and urged DSA members to support a GoFundMe campaign for workers in Myanmar and to seek solidarity in their own unions. The campaign, a collaboration between the Myanmar Confederation of Trade Unions and Italy-Burma Together, is using the money to provide essential communications equipment to help provide a secure network to link up workers and community activists in the Civil Disobedience Movement. 

At the same time, international support is growing for a boycott against Chevron as a way to put some pressure on the rulers of Myanmar. Nobody wants to target enterprises that employ residents of Myanmar, thus adding to their suffering. However, the Coalition Against Chevron in Myanmar is part of a long-running campaign for human and worker rights in the Southeast Asian nation.

Why target Chevron?

Chevron (and its previous incarnation Unocal) has long been a target for human rights and environmental campaigners throughout the world.  It is notorious for its disregard for Indigenous rights, for despoiling the environment, and for directly harming workers and communities. In addition to the efforts of the Coalition Against Chevron in Myanmar, Chevron is currently a target of environmental and worker rights campaigners in Ecuador and the Philippines, where it helps prop up the Duterte regime as it does the murderous military regime in Myanmar. It has not been quite as successful in the United States, where, several years ago, in Richmond, California, home to one of its refineries, it spent millions of dollars in a failed attempt to unseat critics of its environmental pollution. 

In Myanmar, Chevron and the French energy giant conglomerate Total are the major foreign partners in a joint venture natural gas offshore production and pipeline company with the military-controlled Myanmar Oil and Gas Corporation (MOGE).  Total and Chevron contribute directly to the military government through tax payments to the government and through direct monthly payments to MOGE. These revenues are currently the largest single source of income for the Myanmar military.

Burmese civil society organizations have taken the lead in demanding that payments to MOGE be suspended until the military stops its repressive actions and a more democratic government is installed. An appeal to Chevron and Total was endorsed by 403 Burmese civil society organizations. Global labor organizations, including the United Steelworkers, which represents workers at Chevron refineries in the United States, support this call

To date, there have been significant organized protest actions targeting Chevron in Denver (April 11 and 16) Houston and Pasadena (April 17); and, on April 16, Washington DC, New York, and San Ramon (Chevron headquarters).  Videos and other visuals are available on the new public Facebook page of the Coalition Against Chevron in Myanmar. This Facebook page was created and maintained by the Burmese activists within the Coalition. The Denver actions were organized by Denver DSA, together with the Burmese community.  Demonstrations in other cities included many individual members of DSA along with Burmese activists and other solidarity supporters.

Action in the Biden administration and in Congress

Several environmentalist and labor organizations have been making the same case for cutting off payments from Chevron to the military regime.  Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts conducted a subcommittee hearing of the Foreign Relations Committee that featured testimony from Thomas Andrews, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Myanmar to the Human Rights Council. A bipartisan group of U.S. senators has sent a letter calling on the Biden administration to freeze all foreign currency revenues and foreign exchange reserves held in state accounts outside of Myanmar. The senators said that the administration’s first step should be imposing sanctions on the state-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), now under the control of the junta’s leaders.

No one supports general sanctions that would injure the people of Burma, but a campaign to deprive the military machine of the revenues it needs to continue the war against its own people could have an impact. The Coalition Against Chevron in Myanmar is planning more events and demonstrations in various places throughout May.  Chevron is holding its annual shareholders’ meeting in San Ramon on May 26, while Total is holding its meeting on May 28 in Paris.  If the companies have not voluntarily ceased payments to the military regime before then, there will likely be a major protest in San Ramon.  There may also be additional protests near the Chevron refineries in Richmond and Los Angeles, CA, and Houston, TX, sometime in May.  DSA locals in those areas or anywhere else who want to help plan such events together with local Burmese community activists can contact the DSA International Committee.