Accusing the Unocal oil company of profiting from widespread forced labor and other human rights abuses in the Southeast Asian nation of Burma, the self-declared Burmese government-in-exile Tuesday sued the company in federal court.
The suit, filed in Los Angeles where Unocal is headquartered, asks for an injunction to stop the company from participating in a $1.2 billion joint venture gas pipeline project with Burma’s stateowned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise.
The suit also asks for monetary damages for the thousands of Burmese allegedly forced to work without pay on the pipeline project, or relocated because of it.
Unocal hotly denied the charges, calling them “motivated solely by political considerations.”
“We are proud of the…project because it improves the lives of others,” the company said in a statement. “It is an outstanding model of responsible economic development.”
The legal action is part of an increasingly active campaign in this country to boycott the military government of Burma and American companies doing business in Burma.
The campaign picked up momentum this summer after Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Burma’s democracy movement, announced her support for international boycotts and sanctions.
The U.S. Senate passed a bill in July calling for limited economic sanctions against Burma, and a House-Senate conference committee is scheduled to decide the issue next week.
Anti-government Burmese activists claim to have videotapes of forced labor associated with the pipeline project and testimony from Burmese who fled after being forced to work by the government.