Trillium Asset Management’s efforts to promote human rights in Burma and around the world took us to the annual meeting of oilfield services provider BJ Services Company on January 22. At the meeting, we presented to the company’s board and senior management a shareholder resolution calling on the company to evaluate divesting from Burma and other countries with a pattern of ongoing and systematic violation of human rights. According to preliminary figures, the resolution received 4.5 percent of the vote, enough to allow us to bring the issue back before the company next year if we aren’t successful in negotiations with the company.
Burma (also called Myanmar) is ruled by a military government that seized power in 1988. The government voided 1990 elections, which were won by the National League for Democracy led by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. The government held Suu Kyi under house arrest from 1989 to 1995 and again for 18 months in 2001 and 2002. A year after releasing her, the military government provoked international criticism in May 2003 by attacking and killing a number of Suu Kyi’s supporters and reimprisoning her.
In response, in the summer of 2003, Congress overwhelmingly passed and President George W. Bush signed into law new restrictions banning imports of goods produced in Burma to the U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell wrote in a column in The Wall Street Journal, calling the ruling government of Burma “thugs” and wrote, “We also should further limit commerce with Burma that enriches the junta’s generals.” In addition to the new U.S. trade sanctions, the European Union has imposed new trade sanctions and Japan is freezing the considerable foreign aid it grants to Burma. The new U.S. trade sanctions codify an existing U.S. policy to oppose World Bank loans or international technical assistance to Myanmar. In 1997, the U.S. banned U.S. companies from making new investment in Burma.
BJ Services Company provides pipeline service operations in Burma and maintains a one-person district office in Rangoon, Burma to seek contracts there. Aung San Suu Kyi has encouraged outside companies to divest from Burma to pressure the ruling government, and Trillium Asset Management has helped persuade a number of companies to divest, including oil drilling company Baker Hughes. We hope to encourage BJ Services to assess human rights concerns in other countries where it does business, in a similar way that we worked with Amnesty International to convince ChevronTexaco to adopt its first global human rights policy. We’re hopeful that all these efforts represent our own small contribution to re-establishment of a free and democratic Burma and greater respect for human rights worldwide.