Facts about “Unocal in Burma case” :Union Oil Company of California, or Unocal, wasfounded in 1890 to develop oil fields in California. By the 1990s, however,most oil fields in the United States were nearing depletion so the companybegan investing in energy projects outside the U.S.Onesuch international project that attracted thecompany’s attention was the “Yadana Field,” a natural gasfield 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.Burmais 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 infantmortality rate and a low life expectancy. The natural gas project would providesignificant benefits to the impoverished nationBurma attracted Unocal for several reasons like labor was cheap andrelatively 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 wasextremely stable.
The only real problem the company saw with its involvement in theproject was that the government of Burma is a military dictatorship accused ofviolating the human rights of the Burmese. In 1988, after crushing majorcountrywide pro-democracy demonstrations, Burma’s military had seized power andmade the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) head of thegovernment. The SLORC, which was made up of 19 senior military officers,imposed martial law on the country.Problemsobserved in the case:Notall Burmese citizens were pleased with the development of the Yadana Field. Itwas claimed that only people in and around the pipeline area were beingbenefitted. It was observed that violations of the human rights were taking place.
InOctober 1996, 15 members of the BurmeseKaren minority group, alleged that they or their family members had beensubjected to relocation, forced labor, torture, murder, and rape on the Yadanapipeline project, filed class action suits in U.S. courts against Unocal.Disregardingthe Burmese was a moral failure of Unocal aswell as Burmese military government. People were exploited through violation ofhuman rights value and ethics.
Not everyone was treated as similar as theworkers living in and around the pipeline area. This lead to inequality.What could havebeen a better solution to tackle this issue?Wecan categorize the solution on the basis of four perspectives considering theethical fronts.
A) Utilitarian front B) Rights frontC) Justice and D) Caring perspective. A) Utilitarian front: Fromthis point of view, it was a right call for Unocal to invest in Yadana field. Itprovided Burma citizens with employment and their infant mortality rate alongthe pipeline was observed to be dropped. Thailand was able to enjoy cleanernatural gas from 500-600 million cubic feet of gas. But the benefits were only limited to workers andpopulation in and around the pipeline area only.
These benefits should have beenspread 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 whoopposed the project were in place. Herethe company and government should have provided relocation compensation to thefamilies which would help in tackling this issue. Both the company and the military-rungovernment failed on moral and ethical terms. They should have considered humanrights and the value of the Burmese that worked for them towards the success ofthe project. They both failed to implement and execute the core common values,virtues and ethics. Proper treatment of people instead of implementing forcedlabor would reduce the issue.
Since labor is educated in Burma they should havebeen treated professionally instead of being ill-treatedC) Justice: Burmese workers in and around the pipelineand rest of the population should have been treated equally by fosteringequality traits which would make every citizen believe in the project anddevelopment of the economy. It is ethically right to treat everyone in a sameequal manner. Unocal failed in doing so. Being ethically correct would be tofollow the principle equality for all. Also, considerations should have beenmade to issue right amount of wages on time.D) Caring: Unocal and government were not right inthis trait as the people of Karen were ill-treated by the army and they haveresorted to the violation of ethics of care. It would have been much better ofa condition if the people of Karen were fairly treated in a good manner by theBurmese Army.