Global oil and gas companies Woodside, Chevron and Total should halt the flow of money from projects in Myanmar to the government or be held responsible for effectively helping fund the military junta’s violent repression of the country’s people, pro-democracy advocates say.
At least 18 people have been killed by the military for participating in pro-democracy protests since the 1 February military coup, with soldiers firing live rounds into crowds of thousands demonstrating in cities across the country.
The oil and gas industry contributes US$900m (A$1.1bn) a year to the Myanmar government, which since last month has been controlled by a military that has been accused of serious human rights abuses including genocide against the ethnic minority Rohingya people, non-government organisation Publish What You Pay (PWYP) said.
In a new research note, PWYP said Australian company Woodside, French group Total and MPRL E&P, which is controlled by Myanmar businessman U Moe Myint, should stop exploring for gas in a vast offshore field known as A6.
Woodside announced on Saturday it would suspend operations inMyanmar, withdraw all of its workers from the country and place “all business decisions [in Myanmar] under review”.
PWYP said Total and Chevron should immediately stop making payments – in cash or in kind – to the government from their existing operations and should instead put the money into an escrow account until democracy is restored in Myanmar.
PWYP’s call comes after the Myanmar Alliance for Transparency and Accountability, a coalition of more than 400 civil society groups and individuals, said last week that oil and gas groups should “immediately stop providing revenue payments to the military”.
The government’s oil and gas company, MOGE, which gets a share of gas from projects in Myanmar, was now a military-controlled business and the single largest source of income for the military regime, said Yadanar Maung, a spokeswoman for Justice for Myanmar.
The organisation said Total had reported that it paid €229.6m (A$412.2m) to Myanmar in 2019 in taxes and the government’s share of gas production.
“Total is likely to be the military regime’s single biggest source of revenue.”
PWYP said that in one 12-month period, the 2016-17 financial year, US$8.3m of gas extracted from Chevron and Total’s Yadana project “went to the Myanmar military, its conglomerates – Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) and Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (MEHL) – and the notorious Asia World Co.”
Sanctions on the country were lifted in 2016 after elections swept Aung San Suu Kyi into power.
PWYP said in its note: “Any revenue from offshore gas flowing to the now military controlled government could go to military operations, military interests, including the generals and military units responsible for the coup and recent atrocities against the Rohingya.”
Yadanar Maung said oil and gas was the most important industry for Myanmar’s military generals, and called for targeted international sanctions against military-owned businesses.
“If they are allowed access to oil and gas revenue, they can sustain and entrench their regime. The international community must not let that happen.”
She said foreign companies that stayed in the country, effectively supporting the military, would be responsible by them for the repression that followed.
“Justice For Myanmar calls on all oil and gas companies to end their relationship with Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise and exit our country. Every day they stay in production they are earning much-needed revenue for the military regime, fuelling brutal repression.
“We call on Total, Chevron and all other oil and gas companies to act now and stand with the people of Myanmar. If they continue business as usual, we will hold you responsible for the brutality that the military inflicts on the people.”
Total has been contacted for comment.
A Chevron spokesman said the company did not control where gas it gave to MOGE went and “does not make distributions directly to the Myanmar military”. He did not answer directly when asked whether Chevron would consider paying into an escrow account.
“Chevron is a long-term partner in Myanmar and we conduct our business in a responsible manner, respecting the law and universal human rights to benefit the communities where we work,” he said. “We support the people of Myanmar on their journey to a modern, peaceful and prosperous nation. We are monitoring the situation closely and hope for a peaceful resolution through dialogue.”
A Woodside spokesperson said the company “supports the people of Myanmar and we hope to see a peaceful journey to democracy”.
“Until we see the outlook for Myanmar and its political stability has improved, Woodside will keep all business decisions under review.”
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