The Brandt Proposals: A Report Card
TECHNOLOGY AND CORPORATIONS
The Brandt Commission was concerned about the impact of technology and corporations in developing nations. The Brandt Reports called for international codes of conduct for the sharing of technology, a program for the transfer and development of appropriate technologies at a reasonable cost, global safeguards against restrictive business practices, and a new framework for the activities of multinational corporations.
Not only is technology an important element for growth in developing countries, said Brandt, "it can even be argued that their principal weakness is the lack of access to technology, or command of it" (N-S, 194).
Many developing nations have hoped to 'leapfrog' industrialization, jumping straight from agrarian societies into the technological age, while others caution against a quick fix. Although technology is clearly a key factor in the future of the world economy, it is not connecting with the unmet needs and aspirations of half the world's people. Developing nations hold vast opportunities for solar energy, fiber optics, telecommunications, and telecom service trade – as well as microcredit loans for the production and distribution of locally-based products through the Internet – but immense obstacles stand in the way.
As the Brandt Commission noted twenty years ago:
"Almost all advanced technology originates in industrial countries and most of it continues to be developed by them. The North accounts for about 96 percent of the world's spending on research and development. The scientists and engineers, the advanced institutions of education and research, the modern plants, the consumer demand and the finance are all found mainly in the richest countries" (N-S, 194).
In 2000, the developing world still lags far behind in every key technological measure: tractors, telephones, electricity consumption, patents, royalties, technological exports, research and development, scientists, and engineers. With the personal computer and communications revolution of the 1980s and 90s, the uneven diffusion of information and communications technology has also multiplied.
In 2000, Africa had 734 million people, but just 14 million telephone lines. Developed nations, with 15% of the world's population, had 88% of all Internet use. Hardware is just part of the digital divide. Even if poor nations had advanced telecommunications systems, there is still the problem of illiteracy and lack of basic technical skills.
Besides the gap between the world's information rich and information poor, there is also a growing divide between the interests of multinational corporations and developing nations. As the Brandt Commission noted in 1980, "The investors in the corporations have been worried by nationalizations and contract disputes, and want protection and predictable conditions for their investment; while many developing countries have reservations about the character and good faith of the corporations" (N-S, 189).
- Following twenty years of robust corporate growth and lackluster development in poor nations, the situation remains polarized. International corporations continue to locate in nations where wages, taxes, and trade, financial and environmental restrictions are the lowest. There is virtually no regulation of corporate practices, which are often at odds with the developmental objectives and national interests of poor countries. In addition, there is no international agreement on foreign direct investment which could allow developing nations to participate in decisions on:
• Corporate disclosure of information
• Ethical behavior
• Restrictive business practices
• Labor standards
• Tax policies
• Fiscal incentives
• Repatriation of profits, royalties and dividends
Developing nations lack bargaining capacity and broad access to international development finance. Earnings from exports, which could be used to import new technology and boost productivity, are used instead to service debt.
Along with increased financial aid and debt relief, developing nations need assistance in joining the information revolution. The Brandt Commission's call for a comprehensive program to transfer technology to poor nations at a reasonable cost is more crucial than ever.
The advantages of digital technology and instant information flows – market standardization and predictability, bureaucratic transparency and openness, democratic stability and protection – might be good influences in developing countries eventually, promoting vibrant productive infrastructure, but technology by itself cannot build that supporting environment. For the foreseeable future, technological products and technological information in developing nations are best used as an underpinning for programs that enhance people's capacities and stimulate productive growth.
Once basic needs are met, appropriate technology becomes a vital part of the process of development. Access to information and communication may then result in increased knowledge, economic opportunity, and political participation. Only local development, coupled with technology, can provide the conditions of self-sufficiency and security necessary to raise incomes and create effective demand. Without that demand, developing nations cannot expect to buy the greatly needed solar panels, fiber optic lines, telephones, and computers now available on the market, and developed nations cannot expect to sell them.
Back to top...
Previous | Table of Contents | Next