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close this bookThe Impact of Technology on Human Rights: Global Case-studies (UNU, 1993, 322 pages)
close this folder3. Technology and human rights: critical implications for Thailand
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentHuman rights
View the documentTechnology
View the documentImplications
View the documentRural development
View the documentAgriculture
View the documentIndustrialization
View the documentUrbanization
View the documentEnvironmental concerns
View the documentThe socialization process
View the documentAssessment
View the documentAppendix 1
View the documentNotes


This study has undertaken an examination of various factors underlying the linkage between human rights and technology, including the dimensions of rural and agricultural development, industrialization, urbanization, environment, and socialization. Some of the lessons learnt include the following:

1. Rural deprivation is more often than not linked to the basic needs of ordinary people. In a sense, the lack of basic necessities and services can be seen as a breach of basic human rights, in particular the right to development. This is not an area where advocacy in ordinary courts of law will lead to relevant remedies. What is important is to gain access to the development planning process, in particular state development agencies, and the budgetary and other resources that can lead to the fulfillment these needs. It is pressure on these elements that can bring about more change in rural areas.

On this front, technology can help not only to identify the basic needs of rural people but also to respond to those needs through development projects catering to what is appropriate at the local level. Needless to say, these elements depend heavily upon the political and social will of those who control the power and resources of the state.

2. Access to technology in rural development is interlinked with other determinants, in particular the decentralization of decision-making and popular participation. Unless these determinants are recognized and brought into operation, the development process is likely to remain top-down, with elements of superimposition derogating from spontaneous processes and from inspiration given by the right to development. This consideration has relevance for the organization and, indeed, the nature of the nation-state itself and for the concentration of power and resources in urban areas and in the hands of the elite.

3. Human rights and technology depend upon access to facilities, such as investment promotion and credit availability, which may enhance the choices of ordinary people in the industrialization process. This is pertinent to rural areas, where small-scale industries may help to supplement income and enable local people to diversify their products, complemented by the diffusion of technology to such areas, for example, through subcontracting.92 The present structure does not lend itself sufficiently to the choices that can lead to rural industrialization and the desired benefits.

4. While agricultural development has been overshadowed by the surge in manufacturing for export purposes, one should not underestimate the continued importance of agriculture in terms of the basic livelihood of the majority of the Thai population, and also in terms of nutrition. Technology can help to bolster this position by enabling farmers to be more productive, more cost-effective, and more knowledgeable in the management and marketing of their crops. It can help them limit their dependency on middlemen and to gain the maximum return for their efforts.

5. While there have been positive technological advances to help agriculture, e. g. through more extensive irrigation and better cultivars, the need for appropriate use of fertilizers and insecticides still remains unsatisfied. There is the worrying scenario that farmers have become too dependent upon chemicals without exploring the natural elements that may be available on their home ground. Natural fertilizers and insecticides developed from materials available in the local community should be encouraged, and technology should be harnessed to complement this quest.

6. The scale of industrialization in Thailand is such that it is not necessarily responsive to local needs. The large-scale, capital-intensive, and export-led industries are not necessarily of benefit to the majority of the population. There is no guarantee that the benefits from this kind of industrialization will be distributed equitably among the population. Ironically, the investment incentives are more readily available for these industries than for those of a more modest nature, which are closer in their impact to the broad mass of the population.

7. The urbanization factor is still tilted towards the concentration of people in urban sprawls, which have a magnetic pull for rural people. There is a need for effective urban planning, with details for specific sectors, ranging from zoning of industrial areas to community development and infrastructural services. Technology can assist in all these sectors, bearing in mind the ecological challenges of urban pollution and congestion. The concerns of slums, in particular the right to shelter and the appropriate technology for this purpose, should not be forgotten in the process.

8. Environmental degradation is in large part due to the misuse of technology coupled with human failings. More research and development should be undertaken to promote local technology suitable for the protection of ecologically sensitive areas and for the renewal of those resources which are already depleted. Consideration of scale is also relevant; the big-is-beautiful concept of development is increasingly impugned, as exemplified by the rising discontent with large dams. Alternatives should be found in smaller-scale operations which balance state, community, personal, and environmental interests.

9. The impact of technology on humans and the environment should be assessed by means of broader determinants than those currently envisaged by the environmental impact assessment techniques available. In particular, the qualitative nature of the impact, particularly on social dislocation and human displacement, should not be underestimated. The types of industries and projects to be covered by such tests need to be more comprehensive.

10. While not neglecting the need for more engineers and technicians to assist the rapid industrialization of the country, the promotion of education to bring about a more technically proficient population as a whole should be underlined.93 This should take into account the special concerns of women and children, and the environmental consequences of technological innovations. The channels for upgrading the level of knowledge include both formal educational institutions and non-formal channels such as the mass media.

11. Access to human rights information should be enhanced though more imaginative use of educational technology. This implies the development of innovative educational materials to respond to the needs of different target groups, including the illiterate. Diversifying information flow implies the need to be geared more towards a communications approach than towards a legalistic approach to human rights education.

12. More research and development of local technology is desirable to tackle the issues already noted. The following shortcoming should be rectified:

Little research and development (R&D) is done by private firms in Thailand. A 1982 survey on manpower and research and development activities of 105 companies found that their R&D budgets were only 0.1 per cent of sales. Only 2 per cent of research expenditures were contracted out to public research institutions of universities, showing very little interaction with publicly funded research establishments or universities. Personnel involved in R&D were only 0.21 per cent of the total workforce - equivalent to only 1.3 full-time employees per company. In addition, only 0.2 per cent of the science and technology personnel had doctoral degrees, only 3 per cent had master's degrees, 24 per cent had a bachelor's degree, and the remaining 73 per cent had less than a bachelor's degree.94

While budgeting and more qualified personnel are required, there is another factor particularly affecting outlying areas: the desirability of decentralizing research activities to provincial and regional areas so as to link research programmes more closely with local problems, thereby ensuring direct cooperation and comprehension of local settings.

13. While it is difficult to assess the impact of technology transfer from abroad through leek of an appropriate database, one may advocate the idea of a move away from the type of turnkey transfers which do not genuinely enhance human resources development and knowledge at the local level. The dependency syndrome created by excessive reliance on foreign investment is not conducive to broadening the base of local industries, in particular in rural areas where the majority of people live.

14. While traditionally human rights were advocated against agents of the state in the exercise of their power against individuals and groups, the role and responsibility of the private business sector has come to the fore because of its impact on human rights and technology. One is at a juncture when accountability is not only expected from the state but also from the private sector. This is closely related to the exploitation of natural resources and the development process.

15. The rise of environmentalist groups as allies in human rights advocacy attests to the broadening of human rights to cover environmental concerns. This correlates with the assertion that the ecosystem affects not only this generation but also posterity, thereby having intergenerational implications. It also pinpoints the pattern of human rights advocacy, which has moved beyond organizations dealing with political rights to others dealing with socio-economic and environmental concerns.

16. Protection of human rights through appropriate utilization of technology calls into play the role of popular participation and the ability of individuals to form groups to fight for their rights.95 This is pertinent to the claims of rural people and disadvantaged sectors of the community, who have little access to the power structure and to control of technology. Unless the voice of the community is increased, people's access to the corridors of power and their impact on the responsiveness and accountability of those who hold the reins of power is likely to be limited. This implies the need to promote both formal groups, such as cooperatives, and non-formal groups, such as unregistered farmers' associations, as manifestations of popular participation

17. The fear that technology will result in a process of dehumanization, with overdependence upon computerization and machinery, should be countered by making technology serve human needs in the broadest sense of the term. This implies the utilization of technology, coupled with a sense of equity, for improving the lives of the ordinary pople.96

18. Training of manpower to respond to the development process should not merely be oriented to the production of material goods but also to the preservation of the cultural heritage and spiritual aspirations. If technology is to go hand in hand with these aspects, all concerned, including policy makers and technologically proficient personnel, will need to avoid too much emphasis upon the material aspects of development and to guide the utilization of technology towards the promotion of its non-material dimensions as well.

Ultimately, this implies that technology and human rights should not be seen merely as ends in themselves, but as a means of ensuring survival through the enhancement of the interdependence between nature and humanity.