Total and the human rights crisis in Myanmar


For some time, there have been calls for Total to stop "financing" the military junta that has taken power in Myanmar despite the results of democratic elections, by ceasing all payments of taxes owed to the state with respect to our business in the country.

I address you today to describe the actions we have taken but also to speak about the dilemma that Total has been facing since the beginning of the crisis.

Respect for human rights lies at the heart of our Code of Conduct and our values: Respect for Each Other is deeply rooted in Total's culture. Both on a personal level and as a company we are appalled by the repressive action taking place in Myanmar.

In the current situation, certain decisions are evident and others less so.

Should we discontinue the project to develop our gas discovery on the A6 block? 

The answer is clearly yes. The teams have been instructed to discontinue the project as soon as the crisis began. In the current situation, it goes without saying that we do not intend to invest further in the future.

Should we halt the current gas well drilling campaign? 

Again, the clear answer is yes. We have also given instructions to cease drilling operations and decommission the drilling rig as of May, taking account of the contract in force.

What remains of our business is our offshore gas production in Myanmar which provides half of the electricity for the city of Yangon, almost 5 million inhabitants, and which also supplies western Thailand, where most of the gas is exported.

Should we stop paying taxes to the State of Myanmar? 

The first thing to remember is that not paying taxes is a crime under local law. We have considered putting the four million dollars of monthly taxes into an escrow account, but such non-payment would expose our affiliate's management to arrest and imprisonment. This is our first human rights dilemma.

The facts are these: those who are concerned about Total indirectly financing this repressive junta need to know that we have paid absolutely no taxes to the military government since the crisis began in February, for the simple reason that the banking system no longer functions. But if the system was to be re-established, in order to close off this source of revenue, we would actually have to stop producing gas. Most of the revenues accruing to the government of Myanmar come from gas exports and are not paid by Total, but by a Thai company, PTT, that buys the gas.

So should we stop producing gas on the Yadana field in Myanmar?

We certainly will if we feel that we can no longer produce in the safety conditions required by our rules. We are not at that stage today, because these facilities are not affected by the dramatic events unfolding onshore.

But can we halt production of this gas that supplies electricity to a large population in Yangon, adding to their suffering? For their part, the Thai authorities have alerted us to the importance of this source of energy, which is vital for their population in the west of the country. Can a company like Total decide to cut the supply of electricity to millions of people—causing the closure of hospitals and businesses, upending everyday life—with all the consequences that it will have? This is our second human rights dilemma, because access to energy is a fundamental right.

Finally, and most importantly, even if we did decide to stop production in protest against the situation in Myanmar, we would be putting our employees in a terrible situation: exposing them to forced labor. Having seen the practices of the junta in other economic sectors, and given the vital importance of this gas for the generation of power, we have no doubt that the junta will not hesitate to force our employees to produce the gas by forced labor. It is inconceivable for us to expose our Myanmar employees in the country to such a risk given their loyalty to us over many years. This is our third human rights dilemma.

These are the reasons why we have decided to discontinue our projects and drilling in Myanmar, but will continue to produce gas. Not because we want to maintain our profits and continue to pay taxes to the military junta. But to guarantee the safety of the people who work for us, employees and managers, to protect them from prison or forced labor, and to avoid further worsening the living conditions of the people by depriving millions of electricity.

Resolving these dilemmas by a simplistic solution at the expense of our local employees and the Myanmar population which is already suffering is not the choice I have made. And since I feel that I cannot take the decision to discontinue production, in compliance with our ethics, our firm commitment to human rights and our ambition to be a responsible company, I am today deciding to donate to associations working towards human rights in Myanmar, the equivalent of the taxes that we will effectively have to pay to the Myanmar state.

Patrick Pouyanné, chairman and CEO of Total