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Unocal in Burma Essay

“Ethics is a kind of investigation- and includes both the activity of investigating as well as the results of that investigation-whereas morality is the subject matter that ethics investigate” (Manual G. Velasquez). Here in this analysis we’ll try to differentiate the right and wrong in Unocal’s actions in engaging in the Yadana project from four different key ethical perspectives which are the Utilitarian, Rights, Justice and Caring perspective. 1.Utilitarian Perspective: “Utilitarianism is a general term for any view that holds that actions and policies should be evaluated on the basis of the benefits and costs they will impose on the society” (Velasquez).

On the basis of this concept we can see that Unocal’s project has benefited thousands of families who live in the pipeline region. These benefits include significantly improved health care, improvements in education, new transportation infrastructure and small business opportunities. Unocal also claimed that it provide 7,551 paid jobs during the construction of the project. The improved health care significantly reduced the infant mortality rate in the area.

This project was delivering 500-600 million cubic feet gas per day to Thailand and this project was expected to earn $2.2 billion dollars for contact life. This project also accompanied some costs with it and the most common are forced relocations without compensation of the families from the land, forced labor to work on the pipeline project and imprisonment and/or execution by army of those who opposed. So, on pure Utilitarian ground we can say that there were greater numbers of people benefited in comparison to few costs.

2.Rights Perspective: Right is defined as the entitlement of an individual to something but “Rights that human beings of every nationality possess to an equal extent simply by virtue of being human beings” is moral rights. The categorical imperative theory of Kant’s says that- a.“Everyone should be treated as a free person equal to everyone else”. b.“Never do something unless you are willing to have everyone do it’. c.“Never use people merely as means, but always respect and develop their ability to choose for themselves”.

But in the case we find that during 1993-96 the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International- issued numerous reports claiming that the Burmese army was using forced labor and brutalizing the Karen population as it provide “security” for the Unocal project. Also in 1995 another consultant reported that egregious human rights violation has occurred and continue to occur. Also that even prior to the Unocal project contract, Burma was a politically disrupted country with unethical violation of human rights. These reports prove that there had been a violation of human rights in large scale and also puts a question mark on the decision of Unocal to invest in this project.

3.Justice Perspective: Justice is ensuring that individuals are treated fairly and on the same ground. There the three aspect of Justice on the basis of which Unocal can be judged- a.Distributive: “Distributing society’s benefits and burdens fairly”. Unocal projected that the benefits and earning from the project can be circulated to the entire country through the government but the burden was focused only on those living in the area which was chosen for the paving pipeline.

b.Retributive: “Blaming or punishing persons fairly for doing wrong”. Unocal’s decision in investing in Yadana project was not a wise one as few Karen minority group filed class action suits in U.S. courts against Unocal in both federal and state courts, which Unocal had to settle with heavy compensation. c.Compensatory: “Restoring to a person what the person lost when he or she was wronged by someone”. Due to Unocal’s Yadana project the Karen population had to suffer a lot and were adequately compensated by Unocal during the settlement for the lawsuit.

4.Caring Perspective: Caring perspective is related to emotions and importance of relationships. Depending on the various reports from Unocal’s own studies and different consultancies, it appeared that Unocal was not correct in investing in the Yadana project due to the fact that the basic demand of care was violated when the Karen population were treated inhumanly by the Burmese army, and Unocal was fully aware of these incidents yet they stayed with their arms folded.

Moral responsibility: The ethical principles discussed above also makes the moral standards that can be used to evaluate the moral decisions taken by the Unocal while investing for the Yadana project. Unocal even before undertaking the project conducted some socio-political analysis of the State of Burma. First research was conducted in 1991 by Amnesty International where they documented human rights violation and abuses against the indigenous people by the army which was controlled by SLORC. Even after receiving the report as well as the risks that might occur Unocal continued investing into the project. Again in 1995, Unocal hired another consultancy firm to look into the conditions of the pipeline region but the result remained the same, might be worse.

The indifference attitude of Unocal resulted in massive violation of ethics or morals which included: a.Violation of rights principle, where the reports show the violation of human rights in masses. b.Violation of justice principle, as the benefits and the costs were not evenly and equally distributed among the entire nation. c.Violation of caring principle, as the Unocal didn’t have the basic compassion for the indigenous people. But, since Unocal proceeded with the project based on Utilitarian ground where it took care of the interests of the stakeholders overlooking any other aspects of the project where the benefits of continuing with the project outweighed the social costs involved, it was justifiable to continue.

But when we judge Yadana project on the other ground of ethics we find that Unocal should be held morally and ethically responsible for inflicting injuries on the Karen people and the indigenous people in large. Proper course to achieve socio-political change: To achieve a proper course for the project Unocal had two different methods to choose from between engagement and isolation with respect to Burma. But Unocal’s chose engagement over isolation as they believed it would result in better socio-political change. Unocal’s choice is justified as Burma is a poor country and by contribution and engagement more and more people can be engaged for the project. Here we can see that Unocal, Total, Thailand PTT and MOGE helped in building the Yadana project which not only helped Burma improve socially but also economically.

Among other benefits that resulted due to the Yadana projects are: a.Huge drop in infant mortality rates; from 87 per 1000 to just 13 per 1000; b.These benefits include significantly improved health care, improvements in education, new transportation infrastructure and small business opportunities. c.Unocal also claimed that it provide 7,551 paid jobs during the construction of the project. Conclusion: In a nutshell the analysis of the Yadana project venture can be called as an Anti-Human Rights venture which inflicted huge loose to the indigenous people with an apparent benefit to the nation but the cost of project was too much to compare on humanitarian ground.


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