Monday, May 23, 2022

Total and Chevron to leave Myanmar over ‘deteriorating human rights’

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Energy giants Total and Chevron said Friday they would leave Myanmar following pressure from human rights groups to cut financial ties with the military junta since last year’s military coup.

Total cited in a statement the “worsening” human rights situation in the country in its decision to pull out of Myanmar, a move that deprives the junta of a key source of revenue.

The French firm and US oil major Chevron will withdraw from the Yadana gas field in the Andaman Sea, which provides electricity to the local Burmese and Thai population.

“The situation, in terms of human rights and more generally the rule of law, which have kept worsening in Myanmar… has led us to reassess the situation and no longer allows TotalEnergies to make a sufficiently positive contribution in the country,” the French oil company said.

US energy giant Chevron said it was leaving “in light of circumstances in Myanmar”.

“We have reviewed our interest in the Yadana natural gas project to enable a planned and orderly transition that will lead to an exit from the country,” said spokesman Cameron Van Ast.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) says natural gas projects are Myanmar’s single largest source of foreign currency revenue, generating more than $1 billion every year.

But Total said it had not identified any means to sanction the military junta without avoiding stopping gas production and ensuing payments to the military-controlled Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE).

‘Strong message’ 

The company had announced last year that it was suspending cash payments to its joint venture with the army, Moattama Gas Transportation Company Limited (MGTC).

Total paid around $230 million to the Myanmar authorities in 2019 and another $176 million in 2020 in the form of taxes and “production rights”, according to the company’s own financial statements.

Total said Friday that it had tried “insofar as is materially and legally possible” to limit financial flows received by the MOGE.

But it said it was “materially impossible” to prevent revenue flows as Thailand’s national energy company PTT made most gas sale payments.

PTT chief executive Montri Rawanchaikul on Friday said the company was “carefully considering” its direction following TotalEnergies’ announcement.

HRW welcomed the French company’s withdrawal and called for governments to “prevent any other unscrupulous entities from entering the market”.

“Total’s announcement does highlight how pressure from investors and human rights focused business can work. Governments no longer have an excuse to delay imposing targeted sanctions on oil and gas entities,” HRW Myanmar researcher Manny Maung told AFP.

Myanmar’s shadow national unity government said the news sent a “very strong message” to the ruling junta.

“Other companies must follow Total’s example to put even more pressure on the generals to stop their bloody repression,” said shadow minister Naw Susanna Hla Hla Soe.

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