Pro-democracy groups welcome broker's withdrawal from pariah state

Brokerage Jardine Lloyd Thompson Group has been congratulated by Burmese pro-democracy activists for pulling out of Burma, two months after Insurance Times reported the company was blacklisted for its involvement there.

But other insurance companies continue to maintain links to the country in the face of international pressure to withdraw.

Burma's military regime, which gives the country the name Myanmar, is accused of widespread human rights abuses.

The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), which represents 156 million workers worldwide, had warned JLT and four other insurance companies that they risked becoming accomplices to forced labour.

The others on the ICFTU blacklist are Aon Corporation, Allianz AG, which is the German parent group of Allianz Cornhill, Singapore-based Asia Insurance and Japanese group Itochu.

JLT closed its Burma office on 31 December 2001 and said it would not renew its non-trading licence.

A spokeswoman said the company had never actively traded there, but had kept open a representative office. No jobs were lost as a result of the closure.

The decision was taken on ethical and business grounds, she said.

Fons Vannieuwenhuyse, who speaks on Burma for the ICFTU, said: "We welcome the decision very much."

Director of pro-democracy lobby group Burma Campaign UK, Yvette Mahon, said: "We applaud them for making this stand.

"They join a long list of reputable companies that have chosen to take an ethical position in this regard and to assist the cause of democracy in Burma.

"Foreign investment bolsters the regime, which is one of the world's most prolific users of forced labour.

"There are millions of men, women and children as young as eight in forced labour in Burma.

"They were forced into work such as breaking rocks and laying roads, often at gunpoint and without pay. Many haven't survived the experience."

The UK officially discourages trade, tourism and investment in Burma.

A spokeswoman for Allianz AG said the group did not conduct any business in Burma and had no subsidiary in the country. She was unable to say if Allianz had any other form of commercial link with Burma. Aon Corporation did not respond to Insurance Times' inquiries.