|The Impact of Technology on Human Rights: Global Case-studies (UNU, 1993, 322 pages)|
|4. Human rights and technological development: Eastern Europe and Poland|
The notion of traditional technologies refers to means of reducing the share of man's manual work through technical appliances, especially mechanization and automation.23 Traditional technologies are characterized by their double impact on human rights. On the one hand, they can facilitate the fulfilment of certain rights, and on the other hand they can hamper the fulfilment of other rights.
Traditional technologies exert a positive impact on a number of human rights. First of all, they lead to the raising of the standard of living through more efficient production, improved labour conditions, and the creation of new and better-quality products. As a result of mechanization and automation, the structure and volume of employment undergo changes. It should be pointed out that the impact of mechanization is different from that of automation.
Mechanization reduces the demand for physically strong employees expected to contribute intensive physical labour. On the other hand, women gain broader access to jobs.24 At the same time, mechanization creates jobs for low-skilled workers, able to service a limited part of the production process. For that reason it exerts a positive impact on the fulfilment of human rights in countries with an underdeveloped industry and a surplus of unskilled labour. In highly industrialized countries with a small proportion of unskilled labour, mechanization can bring about problems.
Unlike mechanization, "automation usually leads to a decline in the demand for unskilled workers and is accompanied by regional shifts in the distribution of resources, obsolescence of skills, dislocation of the labour force and a need for retraining and similar adjustments." 25 Its impact on the situation in the field of human rights cannot be unequivocally determined since it is different in countries with labour shortages and in countries with an abundance of manpower. In the former, automation makes it possible to overcome the shortage of manpower by its redistribution and better utilization. By the same token it contributes to an increase in output, speeding up economic development and the growth of well-being. In countries with a surplus of manpower, automation leads to increased unemployment and thus, from the point of view of the right to work, it cannot be called an unequivocally positive phenomenon.
Both mechanization and automation also influence human rights other than the right to work. From the point of view of the individual worker, a common complaint is nervous tension brought about by the faster pace of work and lack of control over it, exposure to noise, the need for constant concentration and alertness on the job, and increased responsibility. Other frequent problems are boredom, which can result from the performance of monotonous, repetitive tasks, the injurious effect on professional pride of the decline of craft skills, and the feeling of isolation among a mass of machines. The physical adjustments the worker has to make to adapt to automated industry are also a source of stress. Workers have little, if any, physical exercise and lack the rhythm of muscular work associated with non-automated processes. Furthermore, because of the high cost of sophisticated modern machinery and the consequent need to maintain production on a round-the-clock basis, there has been an increase in shift work. Concern at the possible ill-effects of such work on sleeping and eating patterns and upon family and social life has been expressed.26 These developments bring about a number of new diseases as an outcome of industrialization, especially mechanization. They pose a serious threat, particularly for women and their children.
A major problem is environmental damage. Mechanization and automation play a leading part in this field. The deterioration of the human environment due to scientific and technological development has been a by-product. Until recently this was generally regarded as inevitable, in view of the interference with the environment which was necessary for the realization of the right of everyone to "a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family," as laid down in Article 25(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.27 The deterioration of the environment is a threat to the right to life, which is proclaimed in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The deterioration of the human environment reduces the enjoyment of life of millions, the right to which is implied in the reference to an adequate standard of living in Article 25 of the Declaration. A threat to health and even life is posed by the pollution of the air due to industrial activity, traffic, domestic heating, and other factors, as well as by excessive waste creation and inefficient waste disposal.
Industrialization, including mechanization and automation, creates a threat to the world food supply by erosion and other forms of soil deterioration, water pollution by domestic sewage, industrial wastes, drained-off chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and thermal pollution.
All those positive and negative effects of technological development on human rights find their reflection in reality in Poland. They can also be found in the experience of other countries of Eastern Europe. The analysis of this situation will be based on the examples of two industries, heavy and light.
Heavy Industry: The Nowa Huta Steel Factory
The example of the Nowa Huta steel factory indicates that traditional technologies can, to a large extent, be used for the fulfilment of citizens' rights involved in the satisfaction of basic needs, especially through the creation of conditions for fulfilment of the right to work and to an existential mininmum, as well as the right to education, science, culture, etc. At the same time, experiences with the steel factory have shown that traditional technologies can be at variance with the right to a healthy environment, the right to unspoiled nature, the right to maintain a traditional culture, etc.
The decision to build the steel factory was taken in 1948, not only on economic but also on political grounds. The idea behind it was to initiate large-scale industrialization in Poland, which was to prove the superiority of a centrally planned economic system over the market economy. The Nowa Huta steel factory was to be the major investment project in this process. Thus this project was treated as a symbol of the new order.
The background to the decision on the factory's location was also, to a considerable extent, political. Its location in the outskirts of a big city, Cracow, the traditional cultural centre of Poland, dominated by a conservative middle class lacking in enthusiasm for new solutions, was aimed at changing the social structure of the region through a considerable increase in the role of workers, who were expected to provide political support for the new system. Another argument for the choice of that location was the large number of new jobs to be offered by the factory, particularly for peasants from nearby villages who were seeking employment. The reserves of employable labour in the region were estimated at 250,000.
Economic arguments for the location of the steel factory near Cracow included, first of all, a favourable ground configuration and directly accessible water from Poland's longest river, the Vistula. Of real importance was also the proximity of basic raw materials for the steel industry, like power coal and coking coal, a dense railway network in the region, and vast scientific and research facilities in Cracow specializing in problems of metallurgy, in particular the Academy of Mining and Metallurgy and the Engineering College of Cracow.
The construction of the steel factory began in April 1950 and its first furnace was put into operation in 1954. The productive capacity planned initially, 1.5 million tons of steel annually, was reached in 1960. In the following years this capacity increased many times. The final effect of the project has been a huge combine manufacturing, at present almost four times as much steel as was assumed in initial plans (5.5 million tons per year), which is only half of its total output. The other half is accounted for by steel products.
The Nowa Huta steel factory is a classical example of industrial development being determined on the principles of the authoritarian system. This is well reflected both in the way in which the decisions on construction and location of the steel factory were taken and in the sources of technological development. This is seen also in the approach to human rights. Collective citizens' rights based on satisfaction of fundamental social needs were given priority.
The steel factory exerted a positive influence on overcoming unemployment and raising living standards in the area near Cracow. This was achieved not only through the creation of jobs for the 30,000 workers who were directly employed in the factory, thus enabling them to improve their living standards, but also through the provision of tens of thousands of jobs for people linked indirectly with the steel factory. They received their apartments either free of charge or for a considerably reduced price, as members of house-building cooperatives. The total number of apartments built amounted to more than 60,000. This meant a huge improvement of living standards for the majority of the factory's employees, who either used to live in the country or came from very poor city families with particularly difficult housing conditions. All apartments built in Nowa Huta were provided with hot water and gas facilities, bathrooms, central heating, etc. Thus, from the point of view of material advancement, they reached a satisfactory level.
The level of education of the steel factory's employees naturally exerts an influence on human rights. Employees with higher education account for 6.6 per cent of the total number of employees, of whom 1,500 have engineering diplomas and 500 diplomas in economics. The proportion of employees with secondary education is 18.6 per cent (7,500). Almost 37 per cent of employees have vocational education (more than 11,000). The rest (33 per cent) have completed their elementary education. Thus, in the steel factory there are no illiterate workers or employees with incomplete elementary education. This marks a huge advance in comparison with the period in which the factory was in the initial stage of its operation and mainly employed uneducated inhabitants from nearby villages.
Thanks to the resources possessed by the steel factory, Nowa Huta (as a city) has been provided with a developed social and cultural-educational infrastructure. The city has some 50 nursery schools for 6,000 children, and about 40 primary schools for 27,000 pupils. In addition, there are seven secondary schools with facilities for more than 3,000 pupils. The city of Nowa Huta has also a theatre, five cinemas, 23 libraries, 786 shops and 74 bars and restaurants. Thus, this medium-sized city performs an important role not only in Cracow but also in Poland as a whole.
The factory accounts for some 40 per cent of domestic output of pig-iron and for 30 per cent of raw steel and hot-rolled steel. The structure of its output differs only slightly from that of similar steel works in industrialized countries. From the point of view of technology, the steel factory represents an average level by world standards. Apart from Soviet-made equipment, it has been equipped with appliances made in Japan, France, Austria, and other economically advanced countries. On the other hand, the share of Polish technology is small, thus supporting the claim that external sources of technological development prevailed in this system.
The kind of technologies applied and the manner of their utilization brought about a number of negative side-efects. Decisions on location of the factory ignored the fact that the land on which it was to be built had for a long time been utilized for growing vegetables and fruit for Cracow because it had the most fertile soils in the region. They also ignored possible environmental damage caused by the location of that kind of technology, including threats faced by Cracow, a valued centre of old culture. This resulted, first of all, from features of the authoritarian system, which can take advantage of the dominant position of the centre and ignore factors contradicting the direction of technological development that is, in its belief, desirable. Secondly, at that time, both in Poland and in the rest of the world, there was no awareness of threats to the natural environment resulting from the use of traditional technologies on such a massive scale, nor were there any social movements opposed to that type of technological development. Thirdly, the approach to human rights that was officially binding prioritized the satisfaction of fundamental needs and the fulfilment of collective social rights such as the rights to work , to an existential mini mum , to education, to culture, etc., with no regard for rights that at present perform a major role.
In relation to the right to an unpolluted natural environment , Now a Huta is unfortunately a negative textbook example, resulting from completely wrong decisions with regard not only to the location of the factory but also, primarily, to the way in which the technologies were applied. The manufacturer of these technologies did not take into consideration the need for environmental protection. Such installations as coke oven batteries (14), iron blast-furnaces (5), and steelworks (12), all imparted from the Soviet Union, initially lacked dust-collection plants. These were installed over the years, and in a number of cases fell short of actual requirements owing to their high cost, as almost all of them had to be imported from highly industrialized countries. Similar remarks apply to appliances to reduce emissions of toxic gases and the discharge of pollutants into the Vistula river.
Each year the emissions of particulate matter into the atmosphere amount to some 50,000 tons, accounting for 50 per cent of all particulate emissions in the region. The situation is also highly unfavourable as far as toxic gas emissions are concerned, since as much as 80 per cent of all gas pollutants originating in this region are discharged by the steel factory.
The extent of damage done by the factory to the waters of the Vistula is smaller, thanks to two sewage treatment plants built in the 1980s. However, the consumption of the Vistula river waters by the steel factory still amounts to three cubic metres per second, and the discharge of sewage into the river amounts to some 200 million cubic metres per year, i.e. 25 per cent of the sewage of the entire region.
Apart from that, the Nowa Huta steel factory is the source of huge amounts of solid wastes, some 4 million tons per year, accounting for more than 70 per cent of solid wastes in the region. Only three-fourths of this amount are subject to recycling, and the rest adds to the area of dumping sites.
Total outlays channelled by the factory to the protection of the natural environment are not considerable and at present account for 4 per cent of its production costs. However, the costs of environmental protection are to increase substantially in the near future, as at present almost 30 per cent of all investment outlays are devoted to this end. Nevertheless, actual requirements in this field will be met only by the investment of 40 per cent of investment outlays.
Generally speaking, it is Cracow and its historic buildings that suffer most from this state of affairs. According to estimates, environmental pollution caused by the steel factory speeds up by four times the process of deterioration of Cracow's historical buildings as compared with the deterioration that takes place in normal conditions. Renovation of houses in Cracow is necessary every five years instead of every 20 years. The incidence of diseases of the respiratory system in the population of Cracow is growing at a remarkable pace. Also high is the percentage of employees of the steel factory who are unable to work on account of poor health caused by bad working conditions.
Due to far-reaching systemic changes that have been taking place since mid-1989, the activities of the steel factory, especially their impact on human rights, have given rise to widespread social criticism. On account of the radical change in the approach to human rights, reflected in the replacement of the doctrine of citizens' rights with the doctrine of the liberal rights of an individual, assessments of the impact of the steel factory on human rights are changing. Traditionally the emphasis was on perceived positive rights, such as the right to work, to an existential minimum, to education and to culture. This has now yielded to an emphasis on the negative influence of the factory on such rights as those to an unpolluted natural environment, and to a "standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food. "
For this reason, the steel factory has intensified its participation in measures to counteract the adverse effects of its activities, through its contribution to the fund for the rehabilitation of Cracow 's historical buildings and the fund for the protection of the health of Cracow's population, as well as to other funds supporting house-building, culture, education, social welfare, etc.
Fundamental systemic changes taking place both in Poland and in other countries in Eastern Europe have brought about radical transformations in the evaluation of the impact exerted by traditional technologies on human rights. This evaluation is based less on economic and social criteria than on political ones. This finds its reflection in deep constitutional and systemic changes. In many cases the new legislation takes an even more radical attitude towards traditional technologies than is the case in highly industrialized countries, and is therefore at variance with the economic abilities of East European countries to replace traditional technologies with modern ones.
These changes are reflected in the new legislation, administrative regulations, licensing methods, and science policies, including policies governing the introduction of new technologies, economic policies, employment policies, etc. The changes introduced into the economic system tolerate the existence of unemployment, limit the scope of the so-called welfare policy of the state, and impose full charges for services (including rent).
As a result of the changes outlined above the steel factory became independent, self-governing, and self-financing. Of the two alternatives faced by the factory, i. e. introduction of quick and radical technological modernization or putting an end to production, the latter seems to be increasingly preferred. The factory's production of metallurgical materials is being curtailed and materials from other ironworks are supplied to the processing departments of the steel factory. At the same time a programme for substantial modernizations of the processing departments of the steel factory has been worked out.
Lack of means for financing these changes is the basic difficulty in solving the problem. Domestic scientific and research centres specializing in metallurgical technology are unable to meet the requirements of the factory with regard to scientific and technological progress. This is why imports of necessary equipment are indispensable. The constant decline in the efficiency of the steel factory due, inter alia , to growing outlays for environmental protection an d participation in financing projects realized in Cracow, as well as the increasing cutbacks in production, makes it impossible to finance the modernizations programme from the factory's own resources.
This puts the steel factory in a very difficult situation. On the one hand it is criticized by conservationist movements, admirers of Cracow's old architecture, and inhabitants of Cracow, and on the other by the employees of the factory itself.
The latter are in the forefront in demanding the replacement of the remnants of the totalitarian system with a democratic one guaranteeing both citizens' rights (in the traditional sense), including the rights to work, to an existential minimum, to education, to culture, etc., and individual rights (in the liberal sense), including the rights to active participation in political life, to participation in managing the steel factory, to access to information, to freedom of association, etc. The difficulties involved in the simultaneous fulfilment of all these demands have given rise to additional difficulties in the operation of the steel factory, created conflicts between its employees and the administration, and exerted a negative impact on the factory's finances, leading to a decline in its efficiency and a decrease in its output.
This is not without its influence on the whole of the Polish economy, as the steel factory supplies its products to some 15,000 Polish enterprises, and 10 per cent of its output is sold abroad on a permanent basis. Thus, economic reasons make the closure of the steel factory impossible, as this would have a devastating effect on the Polish economy.
In conclusion it should be pointed out that the quick transformation of the system existing hitherto into a democratic one, and the change of approach to human rights that this involves, cannot be accompanied by equally quick technological change. This is impossible for economic reasons.
In the early stage of Poland's industrialization, traditional technologies performed a positive role from the point of view of the satisfaction of fundamental needs and the human rights involved. However, from a long-term viewpoint such an approach has proved insufficient, as other human rights must be taken into account as well, including the right to an unpolluted natural environment. The opinions expressed by workers employed in the steel factory show that they value the broad rights brought about by the democratic system more highly than the satisfaction of fundamental needs and rights secured for them by the steel factory.28
Light Industry: The Textile Industry in Lódz
Another example of the interconnection existing in practice between human rights and traditional technology is provided by the textile industry in Lódz, which deals with the production and processing of textile raw materials.
A characteristic feature of the technologies applied in this industry is their relatively high labour intensity (in comparison with other branches of industry). For these reasons, the textile industry in Poland has been located in the regions which traditionally had an abundance of low-skilled labour, mainly female.
The genesis of the industrial centre in Lódz differs substantially from that of the Nowa Huta steel factory. The former was set up much earlier and its development was considerably slower than that of the steel industry centre near Cracow. Development was at its peak in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. At that time a number of production plants representing relatively primitive technologies were opened. The second period of quick development, coupled with modernization as reflected in the automation of manufacturing processes in some enterprises, occurred in the 1970s. The 1980s marked a period of adjustment of technologies to the needs of environmental protection, which to a major degree involved factory closures or the stopping of certain manufacturing processes.
At present, the textile industry in the Lódz region accounts for one-third of domestic textile production , which equals the share of the Nowa Huta steel factory in heavy industrial output. At the same time, employment in the textile industry in the region amounts to some 90,000, which is three times as many as at Nowa Huta. The productivity of textiles is substantially lower than that of the metallurgical combine analysed earlier, the scope for automation in textile factories is very small and their mechanization is incomplete. At the same time, wages in the textile industry are among the lowest in Poland (ranking second from bottom), in sharp contrast to the wages of the Nowa Huta workers, which place them among the highest in the country.
Thus, as far as the right to work is concerned, the textile industry contributes more to its fulfillment, providing employment opportunities for a greater number of people, than does the steel industry. However, because of much lower wages, the right to an existential minimum is fulfilled to a lesser extent.
Under the conditions of the authoritarian system, textile industry enterprises provided, as did the entire state sector, for their employees through the state system of social welfare, subsidized infant nurseries and nursery schools, holidays free of charge or at reduced rates, sanatoria, etc. Finally, employment in that branch of industry facilitated access to an apartment of one's own (also subsidized by the state), free medical care, etc.
At the same time, employment in the textile industry involves many inconveniences and adverse effects. First of all, this is multi-shift work involving night work; it therefore presents serious drawbacks for female workers, who constitute the majority of employees, as it makes caring for children difficult, upsets the harmony of family life, and has an adverse effect on women's health.
Further, the technological processes taking place in the industry are harmful for its employees, since they involve the emission of a number of toxic substances hazardous to health. Emissions of toxic gases occur particularly in the so-called bleacheries (carbon monoxide, chlorine, ammonia) and dye-houses (hydrogen chloride, nitrogen oxides, sulphuric acid, hydrogen sulphide, sulphur dioxide), and, to a lesser extent, at other stages of production. Spinning mills and weaving plants discharge dust and are a source of noise that is harmful to health. According to estimates, almost one-third of textile industry workers work in conditions hazardous to health. No wonder, then, that the incidence of disease in this branch of industry is very high. The most frequent discuses include respiratory system disorders (emphysema), bronchitis, allergies and inflammations, ear diseases (including complete deafness), and cancers. Women suffer from premature ageing, osseous system diseases, varicose veins, etc.
Traditional technologies also add to the high percentage of industrial accidents. The textile industry is much more dangerous than other industries that apply a higher proportion of modern technologies. This is due, first of all, to the obsolete character of the technologies employed and the considerable extent of wear and tear of the machinery used. Working surroundings also contribute to accidents (high concentration of chemical substances, dust, noise, pace of working imposed by the machinery, monotony of work, considerable manual effort, etc.).
All the above disadvantages are incentives to technological development in this branch of industry. Unlike the Nowa Huta steel factory, where the modernization of technological processes took place mainly through the purchase of modern equipment abroad, the textile industry involves a considerable amount of autonomous technological development generated in indigenous scientific and research centres. Poland is an exporter of some types of advanced machines for the textile industry.
Broadly speaking, there are three basic incentives for technological development in the textile industry.
The main incentive is a desire to reduce the harmful effects of working in the industry. This finds expression in the introduction of equipment for pollution abatement and dust removal in production departments, for noise abatement, for the maintenance of desirable microclimatic parameters, etc. This type of technological development usually contributes to the improvement of traditional technologies.
The second incentive is a desire to replace manual work by automated machines. Such improvements usually take place within the framework of traditional technologies, since the technological processes remain the same. It finds its reflection in, for example, the automation of chemical processes that cause emissions of many gases harmful to health.
The third incentive is the necessity of changing technological processes by replacing them with more advanced ones, for reasons such as the difficulty of eliminating the side-effects of processes harmful to health, or new requirements with respect to the external environment, like the elimination of threats to the natural environment or to nearby residential districts. Current technological progress in other parts of the world is also of significance, since it exerts considerable influence on the work of domestic contributors to technological development.
The process of modernization of the textile industry has been accompanied by cutbacks in production that is especially harmful to employees' health or to the environment. This refers both to the entire textile industry and to particular enterprises. A good example of this is provided by the Anilana Chemical Fibres Works in Lódz where the structure and technology of production were changed many times. In spite of substances harmful to human health that originated in the process of production, the employees of this factory have avoided the occupational diseases typical of this branch of industry thanks to the automation of the production process, efficient ventilation, and protective clothing. On the other hand, the adverse effects which Anilana has on the natural environment in Lódz - dust and gases discharged into the atmosphere - have not been eliminated. Inhabitants of the nearby residential districts suffer from respiratory and nervous diseases, which has led to demands from them to limit production or even to close the Anilana works completely.