By David Stenerud
Figures NorWatch have gathered from Statistisk Sentralbyrå (SSB) show that imports from Burma first quartal of 2002 was worth 4,7 million NOK. That is 1,7 million NOK more than first quartal of 2001, which was a record breaking year for Burma imports to Norway. Import figures have increase steadily since 1999 and will, if the trend keeps up, end up at some 20 million NOK in 2002. That is; a near 100 percent increase compared to 1997 (10,4 million NOK)
NorWatch has been in touch with several experts on market mechanisms, trying to get a sensible explaination as to why Norwegian businessmen and –women seemingly have credited Bondevik’s imperative with so little worth.
– Weak pillory threat
Andras Falkenberg is a professor of marketing at Norges Handelshøyskole in Bergen, and has worked a great deal with questions conserning commersial power and ethics. He has set up this three part-explainantions to the lack of impact caracterizing Bondeviks boicott campaign:
1. For a boicott call to be efficient, there has to be present the risk of being hung out in the media. That has not been the case.
2. There has not been a sufficient number of stories about the Burma problem in Norwegian media. People have to little knowledge about the matter, unlike for instance South Africa in the 80s, or, for that matter, Israel today.
3. There has not been sufficiently big actors among those who have been exposed as Burma-traders. “It is easier to identify with IKEA than some wood importer.”
Professor Falkenberg mentions also another possible reason: The business world has a tendency not to be willing to take responsibility for problems related to such issues as human rights several joints back in the business chain. The main reason, however, the professor still thinks is the relatively weak threat of public critisism:
- The pillory hasn’t seemed sufficiently threatning, said the professor.
Researcher Arne Melchior with Norsk Utenrikspolitisk Institutt (NUPI) agree with the professor:
-The risk of being “punished” and loose money has been to small, Melchior said to NorWatch.
In addition, the NUPI-researcher finds that much of the problem is the deversities in oppinions on boicott as such:
- That is an iternaly ongoing debate; whether or nor boicott is an effective mean. Some are almost principally in favour of boicott, while others think the only right way to go is through trade and cooperation. This discussion contributes to create an ambiguity, which also influences the actors, that is, in theis case, eventual importers of goods from Burma, Melchior said.
Other marketing experts NorWatch has been in contact with, think the campain it self may have contributed to build Burma as trade name. One such example may be the exclusive Burma teak, which is to be found, among other places, on deck of the controversial Norwegian hotel ship for multi-millionaires, The World.
Marit Arnstad is fronting the organisation PD Burma, which is an international web of politicians working for democracy in Burma. She thinks the experts NorWatch has spoken to have relevant ideas.
- I think it is fair to say that the discussion conserning boicott as mean to inflict political change, have indeed created a ambiguity. But that is how it must be, if we want to have a nuanced debate.
She underlines also Andreas Falkenberg’s point of view; that there haven’t been enough big actors exposed for trading with Burma.
- We saw that when the lingerie giant Triumph was exposed. That created far more attention than all the exposures of smaller actors.
- The Burma import has been doubled. Has the boicott call been a fiasco?
- That is an impossible question to answer. We don’t know how much the import may have increased if we hadn’t called for a boicott.
- I agree that we haven’t been able to create the same closeness to the problems in Burma, as for instance in South Africa, the PD Burma-head admits.
Facts: The Burma conflict
Burma is a country consisting of many different ethnic groups, ruled by the military junta SPDC (State Peace and Development Council). After a period of economic prosperity following the independence from Great Britain in 1948 until the introduction of a one-party state in 1962, Burma is now one of the world's poorest countries. In 1988, mass protests broke out against the ruling regime and a strong democracy movement arose, led by Aung San Suu Kyi. The rising was, however, put down by the military junta that seized power. The junta allowed free elections in May 1990, but did not hand over power when Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD party (National League for Democracy) won the elections. Suu Kyi has since spent long periods in house arrest and was not able to go to Norway to accept the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. The military junta is oppressing the population with brutal means, and controls most foreign trade. May the 6th of 2002 message was sent out that Aun San Suu Kyi had been released. The popularly elected NLD still warns the outside world, though, against falling back on the sanctions against Burma unti democracy is in place.
Norwatch Newsletter 7-8/02