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3. Technology and human rights: critical implications for Thailand
The socialization process
The expansion of the local economy is estimated at between 9.5 per cent and 10 per cent this year... a great deal of momentum was created in the past two years of superstrong growth and this is propelling the economy along in the current year.2
This headline from a local newspaper in Thailand in mid-1990 illustrates the buoyancy of the national economy and the positive trend of economic development, as seen in figure 1. Thailand has currently one of the fastest growing economies in the world. One of the pervasive preoccupations of Thai policy makers is to estimate if and when Thailand will be classified as a newly industrialized country (NIC), in view of the 10 per cent average GDP growth of the past three years.
How does this position reflect the situation with regard to human rights in the country and to its nexus with technology?
On scrutiny, the situation is more ambivalent than an initial impression would reveal. The incidence of poverty is high in the country, particularly in the north-east, while income distribution leaves much to be desired. This is elaborated in table 1. The cynic may well point out that the glowing statistics, as well as the technological inputs into the growing economy, neglect the underlying social issues involved. If wealth has really increased, it has tended to accumulate in urban areas, in the hands of the few, rather than to be dispersed in rural areas where the majority of people live.
It is precisely this ambiguous situation that calls for an appraisal of the linkage between human rights and technology in developing Thailand. It is closely interrelated with issues of rural and agricultural development, industrialization, urbanization, environmental concerns, and the socialization process - matters of concern to the ordinary people who are at the core of this study.
Fig. 1. GDP growth, Thailand (after Bangkok Post Mid-year Economic Review, 1990, p.
Table 1. Income share by quintile group of population (percentage of total income)
|2nd bottom 10%||3.62||3.28||2.75|
|Variance of logarithm of income||0.530||0.602||0.737|
Source: Suganya Hutaserani and Somchai Jitsuchon, Thailand's Income Distribution and Poverty Profile and Their Current Situations (Thailand Development Research Institute, Bangkok, 1988), p. 17.
The term "human rights" raises different interpretations in Thai society. In past decades, it was much influenced by the political struggles to cast off the vestiges of authoritarianism in Thailand. In the 1970s, a student-led movement managed to oust a dictatorial regime, but was later crushed by a military-led backlash. The advocacy of human rights during that era was very much based upon the call for democracy and freedom of expression. The aspirations of the time gave a political meaning to the term "human rights" as an umbrella for self-determination. It provided justification for protection of the advocates of democracy, and for the release of political prisoners.3
The present government, led by General Chatichai Choonhavan, is the first to have an elected prime minister for many years.4 The political dynamics have changed, and generally it may be said that political rights are now respected to a large extent. While military pressures still pervade the intricate political machinery, most political prisoners have been released from prison. Those who remain in prison tend to be cases of lèse majesté or ideological cases, whose numbers are limited. In 1990, there was the thorny issue of press freedom, as there remained on record various laws that conferred excessive powers on the executive to close down newspapers. Particular reference must be made to Revolutionary Decree No. 42.5 Auspiciously, the setting became more liberal at the end of 1990, when the decree was abrogated by the government.
On the other hand, beyond the political spectrum, there is a whole array of socio-economic and cultural issues which have come to the fore in recent years.
In 1990, a bill to provide social security to workers was in a state of uncertainty for a while, owing to the conflict between different interests. However, towards the end of the year the bill was passed, and a social security system is now being introduced for employees. As already noted, poverty, particularly in rural areas, is rampant, and the gap between the rich and the poor seems to be increasing. Collateral to this, environmental decline, which is often conditioned by and is a consequence of poverty, has begun to affect Thai society. A freak mudslide in 1988, due in part to illegal logging, and a rare hurricane in 1989 which caused several hundred deaths, pointed to the relationship between natural disasters, the degradation of natural resources, poverty, and vested interests.
Evidently, the scope of human rights in Thai understanding now goes beyond merely political questions. There are issues of development and under-development which raise questions concerning a wider dimension of human rights.6 In a way, it parallels the global interest in the right to development, defined by the 1986 General Assembly Declaration as constituting "an inalienable human right by virtue of which every human person and all people are entitled to participate in, contribute to and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realised." 7
In passing, one should note that Thailand voted for the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, since then she has rarely acceded to international human rights instruments. For example, she has not become a party to the 1966 human rights Covenants. The reason seems to be the perception that to accede to external instruments would be to invite scrutiny which may be detrimental to national security and executive discretion. However, beyond governmental circles, non-governmental entities often voice concerns on human rights issues by reference to international standards.
For the purpose of this study, it is this setting which influences the analysis of the various sectors concerned. An understanding of the context in which one is not necessarily invoking remedies for human rights violations once they have occurred is also required. An equally important consideration is preventive strategies which tackle the root causes of human rights abuses, such as the provision of aid and services to the needy. There is the added consideration that one is not only looking to laws and policies as sanctions against those who distort human rights - one is also concerned with other laws and policies of a facilitative nature, e.g. to provide incentives for development and change.
Complementary to this, one should not simply refer to justiciable rights, i.e. rights to be invoked in courts with appurtenant judicial remedies. This is all the more important because in developing countries the mass base of the population tends to be distant, mentally and physically, from the courts and lawyers, who are seen by them as expensive and time-consuming.
One aims at making an impact not merely via the formal legal system but equally via the ability of any institutions or personnel holding the reins of power to ensure more responsiveness to the needs of the population. This includes not only the government itself but also the private business sector. One likewise looks for alternative means of advocating societal change, e. g. non-governmental organizations and the mass media. A key consideration is to promote more grass-roots initiatives and people's participation in the process of development planning, implementation, benefit-sharing, and evaluation.
It follows from this reasoning that one is not referring solely to the role of those organizations which identify themselves as promoters of human rights in the political sense. One is also projecting a key role for organizations which do not necessarily see themselves as directly involved in human rights matters. This includes, in particular, many local non-governmental organizations dealing with development aid and assistance, for example, satisfying the basic needs of food, shelter, and health of the rural population.
In this respect, we can hark back to the wisdom of the following comment made during the First United Nations Development Decade (1970s), when the exhortation to states to improve their GNP at the macroeconomic level, without sufficient regard to income distribution and resource reallocation among the population in pursuit of equity, was subject to criticism. It warned as follows:
One of the greatest dangers in development policy lies in the tendency to give to the more material aspects of growth an overriding and disproportionate emphasis. The end may be forgotten in preoccupation with the means. Human rights may be submerged and human beings seen only as instruments of production rather than as free entities for whose welfare and cultural advance the increased production is intended.8
The reorientation of thought affecting the present study is encapsulated in the following yardsticks later propounded by the UN:
1. The realisation of the potentialities of the human person in harmony with the community should be seen as the central purpose of development;
2. The human person should be regarded as the subject and not the object of the development process;
3. Development requires the satisfaction of both material and non-material basic needs; 4. Respect for human rights is fundamental to the development process;
5. The human person must be able to participate fully in shaping his own reality; 6. Respect for the principles of equality and non-discrimination is essential; and
7. The achievement of a degree of individual and collective self-reliance must be an integral part of the process.9
A plethora of definitions of the term "technology" can be found, including the following:
A body of skills, knowledge, and procedures for making, using and doing useful things.10
The body of knowledge that is applicable to the production of goods and the creation of new goods.11
The systematic application of collective human rationality with a view to achieving greater control over nature and over human processes of all kinds.12
It is probably easier to specify what technology is not, rather than what it is. It is not merely hardware in the form of machinery and tangible materials. It also incorporates "knowledge," embodied in the term "software." Hence the close linkage with education and socialization, a theme to be treated later in this study. As a UN publication has acknowledged, technology is: a combination of hardware and software with the relative proportions varying from one extreme to the other. Purely hardware technology can be considered as being of two types: the end-use product type (such as automobiles, computers, televisions) and the production tool type (such as instruments, equipment and machinery). Software technology can also be considered as being of two types: the know-how type (such as processes, techniques and methods) and the know-why type (such as knowledge, skills and experience).13
The nuances are rendered more complicated by the unsettled notion of technology transfer. Four tendencies are visible from the documentation available. The first suggests that there is a transfer of technology "when it is used effectively in a new environment. No attention is paid to the origin of inputs of production. As long as new technology is employed efficiently, for example even if the whole factory is run by foreigners, technology is considered transferred."14
The second tendency is based upon whether "the local work force is able to take charge of the imported technology and to do so efficiently."15 By contrast, according to the third tendency, technology transfer takes place "when technology spreads to other local productive units in the recipient economy," 16 such as through sub-licensing agreements. Finally, the fourth tendency emphasizes a process of indigenization, i.e. technology transfer takes place when "imported technology is fully understood by local workers, and when these workers begin to adapt the imported technology to the specific needs of the environment.'' 17
Much of the discussion at the international level concerns not so much the puzzle "what is technology transfer?" but "what is international technology transfer?" This is germane to efforts under the aegis of UNCTAV to draft a Code of Conduct on the Transfer of Technology. All drafts agree that a transaction is international, and thus within the scope of the draft code, if the technology is "transferred across national boundaries." 18 Beyond that, there is less agreement. What if the parties are not located in different countries, but one of them is controlled by a foreign entity and the technology transferred has not been developed in the technology-acquiring country? Within the UNCTAD forum, opinions diverge on this. Developing countries view such situations as "international," thereby falling under the draft code.19 However, the developed world disagrees, thus excluding parent-subsidiary situations from the instrument where the subsidiary located in a country transfers technology to another party in that same country.20
A related catchphrase in the minds of policy makers is appropriate technology. One Thai commentator has identified the following features:
- It must be adapted to the culture, economy, and environment of the locality.
- It must be consistent with the past practices of the group.
- It must be adaptable and have few constraints.
- It must respond to the raw materials of the locality.
- It must be suitable to the local environment.
- It must be operated and supervised by the people of the locality.
-The benefits must accrue to those users.21
As shown in table 2, there are many impediments to the quest for appropriate technology. As will be seen later, what is appropriate in Thai society is often elusive, especially as technology produces both positive and negative impacts, sometimes simultaneously.
Historically, many forms of technology were found in Thailand thousands of years ago. There are remnants of technology concerning the use of seeds from as far back as 7,000-9,000 years ago. From 5,000-7,000 years ago, there is evidence of metal and copper utilization. In the Middle Ages (Sukothai era), there was ample use of ceramics, drainage, and building construction. Some three centuries ago, with the advent of Europeans in the region, medical instruments, irrigation, printing presses, and guns arrived at Thailand's doorstep. Then came all the trappings of modernization, including telegraph and postal communications, railways, roads, and electricity. Interestingly, the first rice mill was set up with the help of the United States in 1858.22
Currently, it is the Ministry of Science, Technology and Energy which oversees policy on technology. The national policy is shaped by the Sixth National Economic and Social Development Plan (1987-1991) ("The Sixth Plan"), whose guidelines include the following:23
(1) to develop the country's policy-making and planning capacities in science and technology;
(2) to develop the basic organizational structure, together with the laws and regulations necessary for science and technology development;
(3) to develop manpower efficiency in science and technology by improving the quality and use of manpower, particularly in engineering, science, agriculture, technical and vocational education, and secondary education;
(4) to encourage efficiency in national research and development;
(5) to encourage technology transfer from abroad and increase its effectiveness in benefiting the economic and technological development of the nation;
(6) to develop a new data and information system for science and technology; and
(7) to promote the role of the private sector in developing and using technology.
Table 2. Problems with the current thinking about appropriate technology
|Lack of comprehensive approach||Job creation aspect has been
Too much emphasis on maintaining traditional occupational patterns
|Lack of competitive tradition||Very little consideration of
quality, productivity, and efficiency necessary for
Use of small scale which overlooks profitability
|Lack of future orientation||Entire thrust is towards
dealing with immediate problems
Little or no consideration for future solutions
|Creation of false hopes||Failure to realize the inadequacy of small-scale technologies to deal with the immense magnitude of development problems|
|Inadequate rate of change||The use of rural-based technology for national development is a very slow process compared with the fast growth in population and aspirations|
|Lack of integration with technology transfer||Creating an artificial
boundary between technology transfer and technology
Very little attempt to achieve a coherent strategy
|Lack of institutional infrastructure||Very little has been done
for the creation of a technological innovation climate
Institutional constraints on transfer and development of appropriate technology have been largely ignored
|Lack of information flow on alternative technologies||Lack of information on
various technologies developed in different countries
Failures receive more publicity than successes
|Emphasizing the tool and not the problem||The technology selection process ignores some vital aspects of the problems, such as the image of modernism created by the powerful demonstration effect|
|Lack of people's participation||Every appropriate technology must start with and be implemented by people who need it. What is appropriate can only be determined by the people themselves|
Source: UN (ESCAP), Technology for Development (1984), p. 85.
At the transnational level of technology transfer, technology has arrived in Thailand via the private sector, bilateral aid, and international organizations. Thailand has no law on such technology transfer, and the policy is one of acceptance with open arms.24 Japan ranks first in this field in terms of direct investment in Thailand. It is difficult to know how much technology has come into the country, particularly via the private sector, as there is no repository of technology contracts. The only two national entities which carry out some monitoring of these contracts are the Board of Investment, for the purpose of granting investment incentives, and the Bank of Thailand, for the purpose of repatriation of investment profits.
Although local research and development of technology, as well as local technology transfer, are very much on the policy agenda, it is difficult to assess how far they have been promoted in practice. In this respect, a sampling is given in Appendix 1, by the list of projects promoted by the Ministry of Technology, but this does not imply that all the projects have been completed or have attained their objective.
On the legal front, one should note that there is an array of laws affecting the utilization of technology, although they tend to concern the industrialization process rather than other sectors. The genesis is the Constitution itself (1978), which calls upon the state to promote the development of science and technology.25 The substantive laws include the following:
1. Patents. The current national law is the Patent Act 1979.26 By section 3 of this Act, "patent" is defined as "a document issued under the provisions of this Act to grant protection for an invention or a design." A patent may only be granted for an invention if the invention is new, involves an inventive step, and is capable of industrial application. The requirement of novelty means that the following are not patentable:
- An invention widely known or used by others in Thailand before the filing of the patent application.
- An invention the subject-matter or details of which were described or other wise disclosed to the public in any manner, whether inside or outside Thailand, before the filing of the patent application. - An invention which is the subject of a pending application filed more than 12 months previously in a foreign country.
- An invention for which a patent was applied for in Thailand, but in respect of which the applicant had abandoned such application. Inventions which are not patentable include, inter alia:
- Machines for use in agriculture.
- Animals, plants, or biological processes for the production of animals or plants.
- Inventions which are contrary to public order, good morals, or public health or welfare.
To be an eligible applicant, the applicant must be a Thai national or a national of a country which allows persons of Thai nationality to apply for patents in such country. If granted, the patent is valid for a period of 15 years, while a patent for product design is valid for a period of seven years. Incidentally, Thailand has not signed the Paris Convention on the International Union for the Protection of Industrial Property 1883.
The current debate on the patent legislation is on whether to amend it to include drugs (pharmaceuticals); although this would help to protect foreign inventions, the prices of drugs would rise to the detriment of ordinary Thais. As will be seen below in relation to agriculture, there has been talk of enabling new cultivars to be patented, although this has not come to pass.
2. Copyright. Protection is accorded automatically to any "work" created by natural and juristic persons by the Copyright Act 1978.27 This includes literature, drama, music, and films. There is no need for registration of copyright. Foreigners may also benefit if they create a work while residing in Thailand during the creation. Where they reside abroad, they may be entitled to protection if they return to Thailand for the initial publishing. As Thailand is a signatory to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, international copyright protection is accorded to copyrights registered in other countries where those countries recognize Thai copyrights on a reciprocal basis.
In 1988 the main debate on this question was whether to offer protection to US works, as the US had not acceded to the Berne Convention at the time. However, the US did later accede, and the works of US nationals are now entitled to recognition in Thailand on a reciprocal basis. There remains the unsettled issue of whether computer software is protected under the current Thai law. The uncertain position is left to local courts to decide.
3. Trademarks. Protection is accorded by the Trademarks Act 1931 and 1961.28 A trademark may comprise a device, brand, heading, ticket, name, signature, word, letter, numeral, or a combination. It needs to be registered in Thailand. Further protection is provided by the Civil and Criminal Codes. The plethora of counterfeit goods using brand names in Thailand is a headache to those responsible for the implementation of this law.
4. Legal incentives. Various incentives, such as tax and tariff deduction, are accorded by a variety of laws, including the Investment Promotion Act 1977.29 The Ministry of Technology issued in 1988 decrees allowing the reduction of tariffs on machinery which saves energy, and on machinery helping to combat pollution.30 The ministry has also established a revolving fund for those who wish to borrow for research and development of technology in a number of sectors, including agriculture, food, electricity, and machinery.31
On scrutiny, one should observe that there is still underdevelopment of technology at the local level, thereby restricting the benefits of these laws and incentives concerning intellectual property. For instance, there have been relatively few applications by Thais to register patents; the majority have been foreigners. This indicates that indigenous technological developments, particularly in the industrial sector, leave much to be desired. The consequence is that one is too dependent on foreign technology without having the power to adapt it fully to local uses.
As implied earlier, the litmus test for assessing the linkage between human rights and technology is to look at a domain much broader than the political field. This involves socio-economic factors, environmental aspects, and a comprehensive overview of development. The following sectors are selected to illustrate the ambivalent repercussions of technology in Thailand when viewed from a human rights perspective.
The majority of the world's population live in rural areas. This is the case in Thailand, where some 70 per cent of the population are rural-based. They are also disadvantaged by limited access to basic services and belong to the poorer stratum of the community. For this reason, they deserve particular attention when there is talk of human rights and technology. How to reduce poverty, how to overcome unemployment and inequality, how to lessen the migration to urban areas, how to increase the yield of rural occupations, and how to promote greater self-reliance are recurrent questions for Thailand's development process.
When the country first started to have national development plans in the early 1960s, rural areas were much neglected. The two decades that followed the First Development Plan (1961-1966) were biased in favour of infrastructural development, for example, roads, electricity, and dams, which tended to favour urban rather than outlying rural areas. Reappraisal came with the Fifth National Economic and Social Development Plan (1982-1986) ("The Fifth Plan"), with its accent on rural poverty eradication. The Fifth Plan acknowledged past failings, including a top-down development process which expected a trickle-down effect to take place from growth at the national level, the superimposition of welfare efforts on rural people without their participation, limited understanding by policy makers of rural problems, and the lack of basic necessities in rural areas. The Plan identified as special target areas villages ("backward rural areas") in 37 provinces for upgrading on a priority basis. The philosophy began to change with the enuciation of these precepts:
1. To be area specific, giving top priority to the high poverty concentration areas;
2. To develop high poverty concentration areas so that the people will have enough to eat and to clothe themselves. Basic public services will be made available in sufficient supplies;
3. To initiate people's self-help programmes;
4. To solve the poverty problems in all localities with emphasis on low-cost and self-help techniques;
5. To encourage the maximum participation by the people in solving their problems.32
|Vaccine||Injection||Reduction of disease|
|Vegetables||Cultivation||Provision of food|
These strategies were and are linked with the notion of integrated rural development, entailing cooperation between the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Agriculture, to encourage "rural industrialisation, the establishment and strengthening of agro-industrial complexes, the modernisation of agriculture, better integration of women in all stages of the production process, and employment for the rural population." 33
This has also led to the adoption of basic minimum needs indicators (Jor Por Tor), first experimented with in Korat province in north-eastern Thailand. Subsequently, this was extended to all parts of Thailand. As stated in a manual for training those involved in utilizing these indicators,34 the aim is to enable the population to know their basic minimum needs, to improve their quality of life, and to promote cooperation between governmental and non-governmental sectors, with popular participation. The approach seems to be based upon felt needs, with a predominance of objective rather than subjective elements. It is also influenced by the input-output model, with additional emphasis on performance and coverage. This blend is illustrated in table 3.35 The consumption, injection, and cultivation processes exemplify "performance," while the indicators may stipulate the percentage of the groups expected to be covered under the time phase allocated as a measure of "coverage."
Basically, a series of indicators, originally 32 in number and currently in the process of being expanded to 34, was established to be used in selected parts of the country (now extended to villages all over Thailand). These indicators are used to gauge the needs of villagers; this may then lead to mobilization of resources and services to respond to those needs, in terms of projects and budgets.36
The 32 indicators are divided into eight main groups, as follows:
A. The people eat nutritious food which is good for their health:
1. Children up to five years of age do not suffer from malnutrition.
2. Children between 5 and 14 have sufficient food.
3. Pregnant women eat properly and the children born are not less than 3,000 grams in weight.
B. The people have appropriate shelter and environment:
4. Houses are well built to last at least five years.
5. The family arranges the home in an orderly fashion.
6. The family has a toilet meeting sanitation standards.
7. The family has sufficient clean drinking water.
C. The people have access to basic social services:
8. Children under one year old are vaccinated.
9. Children of school age have access to compulsory education.
10. Children of primary school age are vaccinated.
11. People between 14 and 50 are literate.
12. The family obtains news concerning livelihood, health, law.
13. Pregnant women are cared for before giving birth.
14. Pregnant women are cared for at the birth of the child and after the birth.
D. The people are secure in life and in property:
15. The people are safe in life and in property.
E. The people can produce and consume food satisfactorily:
16. The family grows crops on a rotational basis.
17. The family uses fertilizers.
18. The family prevents and eliminates insects affecting crops.
19. The family prevents epidemics among animals.
20. The family uses seeds and animals provided by officials.
F. The family can utilize family planning:
21. Spouses have no more than two children and can use birth control as desired.
G. The people participate in the development process and choose their livelihood:
22. The family is a unit established by its members to help each other.
23. The village participates in self-development.
24. The village participates in looking after common property.
25. The village participates in looking after cultural heritage.
26. The village protects natural resources.
27. The people use their right to vote within the democracy.
28. The village committee is able to plan and follow its plan (for development purposes).
H. The people develop their spirit:
29. In the village, there is mutual bonding and help.
30. Family members practice a religious activity at least once a month.
31. Family members do not gamble and are not addicted to drugs.
32. The family does not spend excessively on traditional rites and rituals.
Technology has come in extremely handy to collate the data and mobilize help for rural people in relation to the above. Basically, two types of information are gathered: that collected by the heads of households, which is then synthesized by the subdistrict development committee and sent to the province; and that collected independently by the same committee as basic data concerning the village. These data are channelled to the provincial rural development centre and are computerized before being sent to Bangkok for further computerization at the national level. The data are used as means for preparing projects to meet the basic minimum needs of the villagers and for mobilizing resources to help them. Three types of situations may call for resources (including technology) as follows :37
1. The villagers' own resources, e.g. in planting vegetables.
2. The villagers' own resources coupled with those of the government, e.g. in setting up a credit scheme or fund in the village.
3. Governmental funds, e.g. basic welfare services.
As the actual use of these indicators is in the nascent stage, it is difficult to assess their true impact, subject to these observations. First, owing to the variety of questionnaires (at least four), which have to be synthesized and reduced to percentages, the system is complex. Second, despite the complexity, the data gathered are an invaluable source of information concerning the state of villages all over Thailand. Third, where there is a lack of certain basic necessities, the information has led to programmes and budgets to help raise the standards to meet the basic minimum needs. Some 70 per cent of the projects of this nature which were sent to the Ministry of the Interior for support have met with a favourable response.
Fourth, some provinces are adopting indicators other than the 32 mentioned, especially if their level of development is already high. In one province, an indicator has been adopted to assess land tenure, an issue not raised in the 32 indicators mentioned. This reflects the need to review the status quo and move towards more redistribution of wealth. But the officials concerned may be afraid that this type of indicator will raise expectations and invite rights advocacy. Fifth, the 32 indicators are still weak on various issues, for example, they do not cover broadly the interests of specific groups such as women, children, and the aged, particularly in relation to their legal rights and well-being.38
In practice, in spite of improvements in the livelihood of some villagers, others remain in a deprived position. The current land purchase and investment boom has also meant greater readiness by villagers to sell land for short-term benefits, thereby losing their means of self-reliance in the long run. Although the population growth has declined in recent years, demographic pressures continue to cause migration to urban areas and encroachment upon national forest land.
While well-intentioned, the rural development policies mentioned tend to be top-down in effect; policies and budgetary resources depend very much upon the Bangkok administration. This is compounded by the failure to decentralize power from the centre and devolve resources to local leaders. The dimension of human rights and technology, in this respect, can be broadened by reference to other issues such as agriculture, rural industrialization, and environmental concerns elaborated below.
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