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ILO Condemns Forced Labor in Burma, Calls for Sanctions

The International Labor Conference has condemned forced labor in Burma, also known as Myanmar, and called on its member states to impose economic and trade sanctions on Burma's military rulers.

In March, the International Labor Organization's governing body warned Burma's military junta to end forced labor or risk triggering sanctions from ILO member states. ILO Director of International Labor Standards Department, Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, said that is exactly what happened.

"The Conference itself has decided that the government has not done enough to end forced labor and that it needed to show a real commitment to eradicate this incredible scourge because no one, nobody should have to be forced to work," she said.

An ILO Commission of Inquiry and investigations by human rights organizations have reported widespread and systematic use of forced labor in areas controlled by the Burmese military.

The investigations say most of the victims are women, children and elderly who have to perform construction work, agriculture, logging and other jobs for no pay. They say children are recruited into the army, are used as porters to carry weapons and equipment for the military and that beatings, torture, rape, and murder are common.

In 2000, the International Labor Organization took the unprecedented step of calling on its members to impose sanctions against Burma because of the government's failure to end forced labor. Because the government has done little to improve the situation, Ms. Doumbia-Henry says the group is calling on its member states to re-activate and intensify those measures.

"To ensure that their enterprises do not undertake trade links with Myanmar or with the military authorities of Myanmar where these relations and activities could be used to promote and perpetuate forced labor," she said.

Burma's representative to the ILO Conference rejects these charges. He says his government has taken concrete steps to end forced labor and the International Labor Organization should continue its dialogue with the government.

The Conference representatives agreed dialogue with Burma should continue and recommends the International Labor Organization strengthen its presence in the country so it can monitor the situation. At the same time, Conference members warn tougher actions against the military junta are likely if the government does not change its ways.