Insurance action group ready to pressure companies over involvement in Burma regime

A team of insurance professionals will be used by a leading Burma human rights organisation to expose UK insurers involved in the country.

The Burma Campaign, which has named corporations trading in the region on its so-called ‘dirty list’, has begun to assemble a panel of former insurers and industry experts with inside knowledge of the industry who can lead investigations.

Burma Campaign director Mark Farmaner said: “We’re compiling a group of insurance experts – people who know the industry and how it works, because it’s easier for them to investigate the industry than it would be for us.”

According to activists, insurers, whose presence in Burma is paramount to the economy and military regime, are notoriously secretive about involvement there.

The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has called for a ban on investment in the country if change did not occur.

In a recent speech Brown said: “Burma must take clear steps towards the return of democracy. The Security Council should meet again to review the results. If progress is insufficient, the council will need to consider further measures.”

The calls for international insurance companies to end involvement in Burma follow the toughest EU sanctions to be placed against the regime.

The sanctions will target new business initiatives in Burma, but are unlikely to have an impact on existing trading arrangements

Farmaner said convincing insurers to end involvement with the military-run country had become the top priority.

He said: “Insurance is critical because if companies were not prepared to offer cover, there would be no investment or trade. It would cripple key areas of the economy that the regime relies on.”

Burma’s main airline company, the government joint-owned Myanmar Airlines International, was forced to ground most of its flights after an insurer removed cover stating the aircraft were not covered for war and allied perils in the face of the recent crises.

Nine protesters were killed during last month’s peace march attended by more than 100,000 – many of whom were monks.

Several UK insurance firms have been connected to Burma, including Willis, Aon and at least one Lloyd’s syndicate. Aon has ended its involvement.

A Lloyd’s spokesperson said: “We are unaware of any businesses at Lloyd's defying current sanctions. If we discovered any underwriters breaching sanctions we would take action immediately.

“Although we currently write a very small amount of reinsurance there, we are concerned by the present conditions in Myanmar and will continue to monitor the situation.”

In a statement Willis said: “Willis does not have any employees or operations in Myanmar. We provide reinsurance renewal placement services principally on marine hull and cargo business for an insurance client in Myanmar.

“The services are a continuation of a long-standing reinsurance account as part of their global risk plan. Willis’s remuneration is insignificant.”