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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


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

Main problems


Lack of comprehensive approach

Job creation aspect has been largely exaggerated.

Too much emphasis on maintaining traditional occupational patterns

Lack of competitive tradition

Very little consideration of quality, productivity, and efficiency necessary for commercial attractiveness

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 development

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.