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ILO Warns of Sanctions Over Burma's Forced Labor Practices

  • Lisa Schlein

The International Labor Organization has warned the Burmese military junta to end forced labor or risk triggering sanctions from ILO member states. The group's governing body has told the Burmese government it has to act soon.

The International Labor Organization has given Burma, also known as Myanmar, a last chance to take concrete action to end forced labor. Francis Maupin is the special adviser to the ILO director-general. Mr. Maupin says the ILO member states have run out of patience with Burma.

"The general view of the governing body is that the wait-and-see attitude which had been adopted by most members since 2001 because there was progress, because there had been a step-by-step progress until now. This wait-and-see attitude is no longer justified. Why? Obviously, because the last developments, including the visit of the high-level team, seems to indicate that progress is no longer possible," he said.

A high-level ILO delegation cut short a mission to Burma last month after being refused permission to meet with a senior official to discuss forced labor. In its resolution, the governing body condemns the refusal and says it casts grave doubt on the usefulness of the ILO approach.

In 2000, the ILO took the unprecedented step of calling on its members to impose sanctions against Burma because of the government's failure to end forced labor. In 2001, the vast majority of countries withdrew their sanctions because they believed Burma was taking some concrete steps to improve the situation.

But Mr. Maupin says Burma has failed to make much progress and has repeatedly backtracked on its promises to do better. He says the resolution gives the members wide-scope for action.

"It leaves open to all the members the possibility to do what they feel appropriate. That is again a fact that the United States did not wait for the ILO to take any special measure to ask them to do this or that," said Mr. Maupin. "They did it all by themselves."

Mr. Maupin is referring to the so-called Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act passed by the U.S. Congress in 2003. That act includes a ban on all imports from Burma.

He says the governing body has given Burma's military rulers until early June, when the ILO holds its annual conference, to show that it is serious about eradicating forced labor.