Trade unions worldwide increase pressure on Burmese junta
Brussels October 31 2000
Stepping up its campaign for the elimination of forced labour in Burma, the
International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) has called for
solidarity to help ensure
that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) takes swift action against the
In an appeal issued last week to its membership, the ICFTU was clear that
the time has come for Rangoon to take international warnings seriously.
Meeting in Geneva over the next two weeks, the Governing Body of the ILO
will decide whether or not to put into action a Resolution on Burma adopted last
The resolution aimed at ensuring that the junta complies with recommendations by
an ILO Commission of Inquiry into Burma’s violations of the Forced Labour
Convention (N° 29), which it ratified in 1955.
The measures, if taken, would include calls for UN agencies, governments,
employers and other parties concerned “to review relations with Burma and cease
any relations or co-operation” with the regime which might have the effect of
encouraging forced labour in the country.
In other words, the measures would open the way for economic pressure to be put
on the junta, such as, for instance, a ban on Burmese investments by foreign
companies, including multinationals.
The actions that ICFTU partners are invited to take, in close consultation
with the independent Federation of Trade Unions - Burma (FTUB), include:
lobbying governments prior to the Governing Body’s meeting (starting on 2
November); organising a picket in front of Burmese embassies;
stepping up pressure on the SPDC - State Peace and Development Council,
official name of the junta – by
Disrupting the supply of services to their embassy (e.g. mail, energy,
garbage collection, telecommunications);
“Fax pickets”: flooding the embassy’s fax number with faxed protests
against forced labour in Burma;
“Cyberpickets”: sending repeated protest messages to the SPDC website.
Information on unions’ initiatives will be soon featured prominently on the
The ICFTU has pledged it will regularly post fresh evidence on forced labour in
run-up to the ILO’s decision, expected November 16.
The military junta has been under close observation by the ILO ever since
the ICFTU, the world’s largest trade union body, lodged a complaint in 1994
against the forced labour practices regularly imposed in the country.
In 1996, the ILO appointed a Commission of Inquiry which found the use of
forced labour to be “widespread and systematic”. Last June, the ILO gave Burma
an ultimatum to comply with Convention N° 29 by implementing “concrete
legislative, executive and administrative programmes” by November 30 or face
At Rangoon’s invitation, an ILO technical co-operation mission visited
Burma last week to check upon the regime’s dubious efforts to comply with
international norms. The ICFTU is presently compiling evidence that
continuous and recent use of forced labour, backed up by hundreds of recent
“forced labour orders”, issued by the local military commanders, is still common
If the Governing Body of the ILO decides that no clear framework has been
adopted by the military, the measures should follow. It would be a unprecedented
step in the ILO’s 81 years of existence and should hopefully force Rangoon to
reform its dictatorial practices against its own population.