Thursday, September 27, 2007

Corporate Responses to Situation in Burma

Quick off the mark, I have already had replies from the corporations I have contacted regarding the unacceptable situation in Burma. Here are the responses so far (you can see original emails by clicking on the company name):

Orient-Express

Dear .....

Thank you for your recent email to Orient-Express Hotels which has been passed to me for reply.

I fully understand your concerns about tourism to Burma. Orient-Express is an a-political organisation. The fact that we operate holidays to Burma does not imply support of the regime. The company takes the view, based on its experience, that opening up countries to tourism and interaction between ordinary people is a positive move, which can be a catalyst for long term social change.

The company has operated a river cruiser, The Road to Mandalay, in Burma since December 1995. We also own The Governor’s Residence, a hotel in Rangoon. We employ some 150 Burmese people on board Road to Mandalay and around 110 at The Governor’s Residence, to all of whom it gives training, secure employment and prospects of advancement. An estimated one thousand other people from Burmese ethnic groups, who are shopkeepers, tourist guides and other local suppliers, also benefit from the influx of visitors to the ship and the hotel.

The company’s experience is that tourism can and does bring positive benefits to ordinary people and this is borne out by the comments of its Burmese staff and suppliers who welcome tourism for the exposure, income and employment it brings. They do not want to see an end to tourism in Burma.

I appreciate that you may disagree with this view and respect your right to do so.


Yours sincerely

Pippa Isbell
Vice President, Corporate Communications

Orient-Express Hotels, Trains and Cruises
20 Upper Ground, London SE1 9PF
Tel: +44 (0)20 7921 4065 Fax: +44 (0)20 7921 4765 Mobile +44 (0)7775 703725
Email:
Internet: www.orient-express.com
Latest news: www.orient-express.com/web/oe/c7a_press.jsp


Bamboo Travel

Dear....

Thank you for your e-mail.

In response to your comments I would like to say that before this company was actually founded, as a specialist in travel to Southeast Asia, we did a lot of soul searching as to whether we should or should not feature Burma in our portfolio of countries. We visited the country and looked extensively at all the arguments for and against offering travel to Burma. Part of this research involved talking to Burmese people and companies (non-government) and others who knew the issues much better than ourselves.

We chose to offer holidays to Burma not only because it is an amazingly interesting place to visit but also because the people of Burma are downtrodden by their government and need all the help they can get from the outside world. From our research it was clear that tourism is one arena where foreign money can reach the individual and can make a difference to some people's lives. Hence we like to think that by sending people to Burma we are in some small way assisting the people there.

You say that tourism is an important source of income for the regime however you neglect to mention that it is also a vital source of income for thousands of ordinary Burmese who work in the tourist sector. What happens to these people when their livelihood is taken away?

Please also bear in mind that we are only offering holidays, we are not forcing anyone to travel and we always suggest that people acquaint themselves with the situation in the country before they decide to travel.

Lastly let me state that few things would give this company greater pleasure than to see Aung San Suu Kyi released from house arrest to take her rightful place at the head of a democratic government of Burma.

I hope the above helps you to understand our position vis a vis offering holidays to Burma.

Yours sincerely


Tim

Tim Milner

Director

Bamboo Travel


Robbins Timber


Dear ,

Thank you for your email. We are very concerned and conscious of the human rights situation in Burma, and have for sometime been actively seeking to find alternative sources of supply of teak, and frequently suggest alternative materials to our customers. From a commercial viewpoint, material (when available) from alternative sources is often not of sufficient quality for the intended purpose, and there is frequently no suitable alternative to teak from Burma.

Our shipping agent has for many years employed several staff in Burma, and naturally has a moral responsibility for their welfare, whilst acknowledging that their, and our continued purchase of teak contributes to financing of the military regime. This quite bluntly leaves us with a moral dilemma.

Having considered this matter in depth some months ago, we have decided our business is not in addressing political issues, but in trading responsibly with materials which are appropriate for the needs of our customers. The moral issue remains however, and we continue to reduce the amount of teak we purchase from Burma, whilst increasing pressure for verification that all material is legally sourced.

A matter such as this is always very complicated, and a total lack of export to the West whilst reducing funds to the military regime will also have a negative impact on the many ordinary people employed in industry and leave the door open for other growing economies to provide the funds this regime needs.

Should you wish to research further information on this subject, the following websites may be of interest:

http://www.icg.org/library/documents/asia/burma_myanmar/078_myanmar_sanctions_engagement_or_another_way_web.pdf

http://www.globalwitness.org/media_library.php?campaign_id=52&filter=reports_documents&ml_lang=en


Regards

Richard Bagnall

M.D.


No surprises, but at least received responses.