Harvard-educated Burma democracy activist Adam Richards, 1996

Back when I was just 14 another Adam Richards was making a difference. From the Burma Library Archives:

April 8, 1996

Cambridge: Harvard University dining service has scuttled a $1 million
contract with Pepsi after Harvard students raised concerns over Pepsi’s
activities in military-run Burma.

Harvard is not the only top university where contracts with PepsiCo are
under fire: Stanford University Burma democracy activists have more than 2000
student backers for an effort to keep Pepsi-owned Taco Bell off their
campus. Dozens of high school and college campuses across the US are
involved in similar efforts.

“I’m a businessperson who says that we have to be socially and ethically
responsible” says Harvard Food Services director of dining services
Michael Berry. Regarding Pepsi he says “I do think there is a problem
doing business with such a company.”

As recently as Feb. 22, a Pepsi memo sneered at the Harvard students,
noting that a Harvard demonstration against Pepsi “involved a mere 25
students.” “This shows the power of the information we provided on
Pepsi,” says Harvard senior Adam Richards.

“What you have is America’s ‘best and brightest’ challenging PepsiCo based
on the facts” says senior analyst Simon Billenness of Franklin Research and
Development. “Students are at the heart of Pepsi’s target market. Pepsi
is extremely vulnerable.”

Pepsi entered Burma shortly after military authorities quashed an
overwhelming (82%) May, 1990 election victory by the NLD party of Nobel
Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. NLD spokespeople have repeatedly
called for Pepsi to cease operating in Burma. Pepsi’s Burmese partner is
also chairman of a joint venture with the military called JV3. In Burma,
“the army controls all major businesses. Not even a small scale merchant
can survive without solid army connections” says the authoritative Far
Eastern Economic Review.

To repatriate its profits from Burma, Pepsi engages in “counter trade” by
purchasing agricultural goods for export. Recent reports by the United
Nations and human rights groups note that forced labor has become pervasive in
Burma’s agriculture sector. The Burmese army has a practice of confiscating
farmland and using the evicted farmers as forced labor.

Despite several enquiries, PepsiCo has not disclosed the parties from
which the company buys farm products or provided any evidence that
PepsiCo is trying to avoid buying from farms that use forced labor.
Despite rising concern over its presence in Burma, Pepsi’s lawyers each
year work diligently to keep such issues off of the shareholder ballot at
its annual meetings.

Pepsi’s revenues in Burma, $14 million in 1995, are dwarfed by US sales of
over $10 billion.

Other US companies, including Coca-Cola, Levi Strauss, Eddie Bauer, Liz
Claiborne, Amoco and Columbia Sportswear, shun Burma. UNOCAL, Texaco and
ARCO remain, and along with Pepsi are the targets of consumer and shareholder

For More Info Contact: Adam Richards

9 thoughts on “Harvard-educated Burma democracy activist Adam Richards, 1996”

  1. This was a big news among the exile community in Japan too.
    My first assignment was covering the Burmese refugee in Japan.
    I even joined the demonstration to the embassy.Although we couldn’t make much
    difference though.

  2. “Although we couldn’t make much difference”. Precisely. And the result of this campaign was that: (Pick one or more) A – The Burmese military collapsed, and democracy flourished. B – The Burmese military simply set up their own soda brand, and it was business as usual. C – Adam Richards joined the United States Army Special Forces upon graduation, learned the basics of guerrilla warfare, and even as we speak is somewhere out in the jungles of Burma, advising anti-Junta guerrillas. D – Adam Richards is preently in Academe, or sitting somewhere behind a desk, receiving a healthy paycheck, dreaming of hs student activist days.

  3. Well,what I tried to say was the ultimate goal of freeing Aung San Suu kyi was not achieved and J-government did so little to influece Rangoon we were dissapointed.
    I must add that Burmese exiles were so pleased with Pepsi,and also UNOCAL withdrawal from the pipeline deals.And praised the U.S and criticized Japan for not standing beside them(and then I got pissed after hearing all that)

    So the other Adam Richards did a fine job for an activist ,you could not ask for more,and I think his efforts were well worth it.Although I became aware that the local situation seems a bit more complicated than simple good democrats VS bad juntas.Lots of exiles still live around Takadanobaba but many stopped politics and others moved to more exile friendly countries,I know two guys who turned themselves in to juntas.One even become Japanese citizen.

    Get in to personal thing,I went to Mongolia in June of 02 for an assignment but this was done as my colleague couldn’t get the visa to go to Burma to cover his story of ethnic musicians in Mandaley.Suu kyi was released from house imprisonment temporary at the time and decided to go to Mandakey for the first time in 20 years,so the junta prohibit all the entry of foreign journalist to town,eventually escalated to not applying visa for my colleague.My story got the green light instead and I went to Mongolia, where I met my future wife.So without Ms.Suu kyi’s Mandaley trip,I could still be a single man.All that make me mentally tied to Burmese democratic movement.I cover the life of exiles occasionary.
    Yeah, small action matters to some.You just never know.

  4. Aceface. In re: “small action matters”. Right on yer, Mate. I’m afraid my cynical streak does get the better of me on occasion. I’m rooting for e) myself. About five years ago, the doctor running the WHO Aids campaign (?) in Myanmar was a Vietnam veteran special forces medic who had gone on to medical school.

  5. Funny coincidence: the same day I posted this, I heard from a friend of a friend that the real Dr. Adam Richards was in Bangkok giving a talk about public health issues in Burma. It is the same guy from 1996, apparently. Too bad I didn’t get to meet him.

  6. I worked with Adam Richards in 1996 and was quoted in the story above. Adam is indeed the same person who went to medical school at Johns Hopkins and continues to work hard in support of human rights in Burma.

    It took many years to topple the apartheid regime in South Africa. Burma is no different.

    I take my hat off to Adam who has worked hard for over a decade now. One of his comrades at Harvard in 1996, Marco Simons, went to Yale School and is now a human rights lawyer in Washington, DC.

  7. Thanks for your comment, Simon. I now wish I could have met the guy though I am sure he’d be scratching his head in befuddlement as to why I’m wasting my time cataloguing people who share my name.

    You might not know it from this website, but I am also a big supporter of the efforts to improve the human rights situation in Burma and have a lot of respect for the work of the US Campaign for Burma. Keep up the struggle!

  8. Thanks Simon. Adam Richards here. For some pictures of me ‘at my desk’ in an IDP camp in Burma, see a recent article in Men’s Health (of all places):

    To learn more about our work along Burma’s borders, check out http://www.ghap.org

    Marco works for Earth Rights International, which recently released yet another report on the Chevron (formerly Unocal) pipeline in Burma: http://www.earthrights.org/

    Thanks “Adamu” for your support.

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