Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Insurance giants urged to stop business with Burma

By Matt Champion

(My Finances) 29 Jul 2008 - Sixteen of the world's biggest insurance companies have been called on to stop trading in Burma.

A new report says companies are allowing billions of dollars worth of investment in Burma by insuring the operations of foreign businesses.

Burma Campaign UK says the investment enabled by insurance companies has not benefited residents in any way and has instead been used to finance campaigns of repression and ethnic cleansing.

A military junta has ruled Burma since 1962 and in the last year the eyes of the world have twice focused on its regime.

Last year live ammunition was used to halt popular pro-democracy protests while the country's generals were condemned by their slow response and misuse of international aid following Cyclone Nargis in May.

Today's report, Insuring Repression, names some of the insurance industry's leading lights as effectively helping to support the junta.

Among the companies on the list are Lloyd's of London, Hannover Re, Catlin, Atrium, XL, Tokio Marine, Sompo Japan and Mitsui Sumitomo.

The report's author, Burma Campaign UK campaigns officer Johnny Chatterton, accused the firms of "propping up a regime that rules through fear – raping, torturing and killing Burma's civilians".

"These companies are putting profit before ethics, they are helping to finance a regime that less than a year ago was shooting peaceful protestors on the streets of Rangoon," he continued.

"They ensure that the regime can afford its guns, bullets and tanks."

Lloyds of London told myfinances.co.uk its Burmese operations represented a tiny percentage of its total business.

"A very small amount of reinsurance is written at Lloyd’s in Burmese shipping and aviation," a spokesman explained.

"We are unaware of any businesses at Lloyd’s defying international sanctions. If we discovered any underwriters breaching sanctions we would take action immediately.”

Under EU law European companies are not blocked from investing and providing insurance in Burma, as opposed to the US, where strict financial sanctions have been in place since 2003.

Adding her voices to calls for the EU to follow Washington's suit, Glenys Kinnock MEP said: "The insurance industry is helping to prop up Burma's morally repugnant regime. The EU must act. We must shut down the regime's financial lifeline with targeted financial sanctions immediately."

According to Burma Campaign UK, a host of insurance companies – including AIG, Allianz, Aviva, AXA, ING and Swiss Re – have already stopped their Burma operations following pressure from the group.

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