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Can you not know that you are using forced labour?
From now on, I think every protest should have monks at the front. They look fantastic, so much better than Bianca Jagger and someone from Greenpeace dawdling into Trafalgar Square clutching a crumpled banner the width of the road. And they're so dazzling, you almost wish that when they're being chased by the police they would flee in formation, to create a kaleidoscope of colour like the Red Arrows.
So everyone loves the Bur-mese protestors, including George Bush, and yesterday the Conservative party conference. But there are a few in the West that aren't so enthusiastic. For example, Total Oil doesn't appear to be cheering for them.
This may be because they supply most of the energy to the regime through the Yadama gas project, which rewards the Burmese military with hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Total denies that its operation there has any connections with the military, although 16 battalions of the army have been stationed around their plant to protect it.
Maybe the board of Total thought this was just part of the Rangoon tattoo. And each day, all the regiments had a thrilling competition to see which could be quickest to assemble an armoured car, fire tear gas from it at dissidents, and drag them away to be tortured.
Total may also, if they were more observant, have noticed that many of their workers have been employed as forced labour, as they claim they didn't realise this. How can you not know when your workforce is part of a forced labour scheme controlled by the military? Didn't it seem strange that no applicants for jobs ever seemed to come for interviews? Or maybe they did, and the transcript of every one reads: "So why do you want to come and work for Total?"
"Because if I don't I'll be shot and dumped in a quarry."
"Aah, I see. We've had quite a lot say that this morning. Well I must say your CV seems rather impressive – forced to work on a railway, forced to work on a General's palace, forced to dig graves, I'd say you'll fit in rather well but I'll let you know in due course. Next."
It's also part of Total's contract in Burma that all their security staff are to be made available from the army. Did that not strike them as odd? Does this usually happen in democracies? If the Arndale Centre in Ipswich needs a couple of security guards, they tend not to get the 9th regiment of the Royal Fusiliers.
And they might have realised, if they were keeping a vigilant eye on affairs, that the elected leader of the country was under house arrest where she'd been for 13 years. Or maybe the Burmese government told Total that this was an experiment in spreading home-working. Because these days with new technology, fewer and fewer jobs require us to go into the office, even if your occupation is international rebel.
Gone are the days when poor old Che Guevara had to go all the way to Cuba and run around mountains to overthrow a government. If he was around now he could do the whole revolution from his lap-top. Not only does this leave the elected Aung San Suu Kyi with more quality time for herself, but think how it cuts down on carbon emissions.
Total insist that their presence in Burma has helped to make the place more liberal, because they've engaged in "constructive engagement" with the regime. That's how to deal with murderers: never mind stopping them, constructively engage with them by helping them out. If only Maxine Carr had thought of this. She could have said, "Instead of whining from the outside about Ian Huntley I decided to constructively engage with him," and by now she'd be in the House of Lords.
And there's another clue about whether they were aware of their part in the military dictatorship. One clause in their deal with the regime reads: "The contract shall be terminated in its entirety if irrefutable evidence is brought that Total is involved willingly with political activities detrimental to the government."
So how could they sign that and not be aware they were making themselves a tool of that government? Maybe their PR person will claim they were all confused by the broker, the same way people signed up for endowment mortgages in the 1980s.
Like every company that makes profits in a vile regime, Total claims that if it pulled out this would hurt the poorest people most. But the opposition in Burma calls for companies to pull out, and they were supported by 82 per cent of the population, in the election the military trampled over.
So Total are in the same position as companies who made millions out of apartheid South Africa, claiming that to pull their business out would hurt black people, despite the fact black people were demanding them to pull out. And when apartheid fell, very few black people said, "Thanks to all those people who helped bring down apartheid by making money out of it. Thank you so much to Shell Oil, and to Cliff Richard and to all the sportsmen who broke our boycott. Our gratitude is with you for ever."
You'd have more respect if they said, "We're making a fortune, so sod the monks. Anyway, they reckon they'll come back as something better so we're doing them a favour."
The Conservatives, like George Bush, can praise and cheer the Burmese opposition, but it's the free market profiteering they idolise that glues the barbarity into place.