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Report Documents the Proud Value Neutrality of International Business (Chevron Take Note)

A number of international insurance companies are helping funnel billions of dollars into the pockets of Burma’s repressive leaders, according to a report released today by Burma Campaign UK, a London-based human-rights group.

None of the companies are U.S.-based, because five-year-old sanctions prohibit U.S. businesses from operating in Burma (the grandfathered Chevron being the controversial exception). But several notable shops — including the renowned Lloyd’s of London — are probably fidgeting uncomfortably this week. That’s because the report reveals that Lloyd’s and some of its subsidiaries are helping insure Burma’s state-run airline and shipping industries — both vital to the distribution of the gems and timber that enrich the junta’s reclusive leaders. Companies based in Australia, Singapore, Dubai and Japan were also identified as underwriting Burmese interests.

The report could presage eventual action in Washington, where lawmakers just passed legislation tightening the existing sanctions on Burmese imports. The bill includes a provision requiring the White House to identify the international banks and other financial institutions currently housing assets on behalf of Burma’s leaders. The idea is to put pressure on those banks by implying the threat of U.S. sanctions on them.

Advocates and lawmakers hope the bill — which President George W. Bush signed into law Tuesday — will force international divestments in Burma and cut off the flow of cash to the ruling generals.

Shame and embarrassment alone are evidently not enough to force such action.

Last week, according to the Burma Campaign UK report, Lloyd’s issued a statement citing the moral neutrality of international business as the reason for its continued operations in Burma:

Unless there are official U.N. sanctions in place, Lloyd’s does not instruct the market where it can and cannot write business.

That rational doesn’t get far with human-rights activists, who charge the insurance giants with abetting the abusive regime. Johnny Chatterton, campaign officer with Burma Campaign UK and author of the report, issued a statement Tuesday saying as much:

By selling insurance to companies operating in Burma, these companies are propping up a regime that rules through fear — raping, torturing and killing Burma’s civilians. These companies are putting profit before ethics, they are helping to finance a regime that less than a year ago was shooting peaceful protestors on the streets of Rangoon. They ensure that the regime can afford its guns, bullets and tanks.

Chevron, take note.

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