Facts about “Unocal in Burma case” :
Union Oil Company of California, or Unocal, was
founded in 1890 to develop oil fields in California. By the 1990s, however,
most oil fields in the United States were nearing depletion so the company
began investing in energy projects outside the U.S.
such international project that attracted the
company’s attention was the “Yadana Field,” a natural gas
field that belonged to Burma that lay off its coast beneath the Andaman Sea.
Estimates indicated the Field had over 5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas,
enough to produce natural gas continuously for approximately 30 years.
is a poor developing Southeast Asian country with a population of 42 million.
Economically, Burma’s per capita gross domestic product is approximately
$200-$300, while inflation is above 20 percent. Burma suffers a high infant
mortality rate and a low life expectancy. The natural gas project would provide
significant benefits to the impoverished nation
Burma attracted Unocal for several reasons like labor was cheap and
relatively educated. It was rich in natural gas resources. It was bounded by other international markets,
particularly in and around Southeast Asia acting as an entry point. Finally, the political environment was
The only real problem the company saw with its involvement in the
project was that the government of Burma is a military dictatorship accused of
violating the human rights of the Burmese. In 1988, after crushing major
countrywide pro-democracy demonstrations, Burma’s military had seized power and
made the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) head of the
government. The SLORC, which was made up of 19 senior military officers,
imposed martial law on the country.
observed in the case:
all Burmese citizens were pleased with the development of the Yadana Field. It
was claimed that only people in and around the pipeline area were being
benefitted. It was observed that violations of the human rights were taking place.
October 1996, 15 members of the Burmese
Karen minority group, alleged that they or their family members had been
subjected to relocation, forced labor, torture, murder, and rape on the Yadana
pipeline project, filed class action suits in U.S. courts against Unocal.
the Burmese was a moral failure of Unocal as
well as Burmese military government. People were exploited through violation of
human rights value and ethics. Not everyone was treated as similar as the
workers living in and around the pipeline area. This lead to inequality.
What could have
been a better solution to tackle this issue?
can categorize the solution on the basis of four perspectives considering the
ethical fronts. A) Utilitarian front B) Rights front
C) Justice and D) Caring perspective.
A) Utilitarian front: From
this point of view, it was a right call for Unocal to invest in Yadana field. It
provided Burma citizens with employment and their infant mortality rate along
the pipeline was observed to be dropped. Thailand was able to enjoy cleaner
natural gas from 500-600 million cubic feet of gas. But the benefits were only limited to workers and
population in and around the pipeline area only. These benefits should have been
spread throughout Burma.
B) Rights: As many as hundreds of Karens were used as forced labor and also were forced to relocate.
Allegations of abuse and even murders by the Burmese government for those who
opposed the project were in place. Here
the company and government should have provided relocation compensation to the
families which would help in tackling this issue. Both the company and the military-run
government failed on moral and ethical terms. They should have considered human
rights and the value of the Burmese that worked for them towards the success of
the project. They both failed to implement and execute the core common values,
virtues and ethics. Proper treatment of people instead of implementing forced
labor would reduce the issue. Since labor is educated in Burma they should have
been treated professionally instead of being ill-treated
C) Justice: Burmese workers in and around the pipeline
and rest of the population should have been treated equally by fostering
equality traits which would make every citizen believe in the project and
development of the economy. It is ethically right to treat everyone in a same
equal manner. Unocal failed in doing so. Being ethically correct would be to
follow the principle equality for all. Also, considerations should have been
made to issue right amount of wages on time.
D) Caring: Unocal and government were not right in
this trait as the people of Karen were ill-treated by the army and they have
resorted to the violation of ethics of care. It would have been much better of
a condition if the people of Karen were fairly treated in a good manner by the