BAT bows out of Burma

Thursday 06 November 2003

ASH news release: Embargo: Immediate 6 November 2003
ASH today congratulated The Burma Campaign on securing British American Tobacco’s departure from Myanmar (Burma). BAT has announced that it has signed an agreement for the sale of its share in the Rothmans of Pall Mall Myanmar Pte Limited [1], effectively ceasing operations in Myanmar (Burma). BAT runs a cigarette factory in Burma which employs about 500 people.

BAT’s announcement comes after sustained pressure from The Burma Campaign UK [2], which campaigns for human rights and democracy in Burma which lead to an intervention by Foreign Office – the junior minister Mike O’Brien formally asked BAT to pull out of strife-torn Burma in July.

Mike O’Brien’s call on the company followed comments made by Prime Minister Tony Blair to parliament when he stated that trade between British companies and the military regime was not appropriate [3].

The anti-smoking charity ASH were sceptical of BAT motives.

Deborah Arnott, Director of the health campaigning charity ASH, said:

British American Tobacco have until today maintained that trading in Burma was a simple matter of business and implied that other ‘considerations’ were not for a company to rule on. Nobody really expected much else from a company that puts profits before lives – whether lives are lost due to the end of burning cigarette or the end of a bayonet.

The power of bad press rather than the power of good judgement is the winner today. It is reprehensible that they dragged their feet in Burma for so long and really makes a mockery of their attempts to show themselves as socially responsible. The sort of superficial Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) BAT engages with is one that looks good in the eyes of regulators and investors, but does nothing for the common person or it’s customers.

Notes and links:

[1] BAT 6 November 2003 press release

[2] The Burma Campaign UK

[3] BBC Online coverage:


Contact: Deborah Arnott 020 7739 5902 (w) 079 7693 5987 (m) ISDN available