India: UNDP Report is Pro-Corporate, Anti-Poor

July 9, 2001 -- The undersigned civil society organisations strongly disagree with the main messages contained in the UNDP Human Development Report 2001. The report taken in its entirety forms an unabashed pat on the back for the hi-tech bandwagon on which a minority of powerful elites are galloping to even greater riches, even more power. The verdict of the report is clear: the
hi-tech world of information technology and biotechnology is the savior of
millions of poor, starving, desperate people in the "developing" countries.

Such a stark conclusion flies in the face of the conclusions reached by the
UNDP itself in its Human Development Reports of 1999 and 2000. Last year's
report, for example, made a strong argument in favour of global policies
that are human rights based and favour fundamental rights of the world's
poor and vulnerable to food, housing, health and self-determination to name
a few. Apparently, going by the conclusions of the HDR 2001 report, this
was a one-off plea. So much for consistency and mainstreaming of human
rights and environmental concerns across the UN system!

In brief, we present the following commentary on the main points made by
the HDR 2001:

  1. Though the HDR admits that modern technologies should not be viewed as
    "silver bullets" that can by themselves bring meaningful development to
    people, it nevertheless focuses predominantly on promoting such technologies.

  2. It claims that the benefits of such technologies will reach the poor if
    they are rooted in a "pro-poor development strategy", but does not lay much
    stress on what such a strategy will need to have.

  3. At various points, it talks of how the "savage" inequalities existing in
    the world could stop the benefits of new technologies reaching the poor,
    but does not take this further to its logical conclusion: that the
    realization of the human rights of the underprivileged and oppressed
    sections of human societies will require economic and social policies that
    emanate from people themselves, technologies that build on their own
    capacities and knowledge rather than bringing in alien ones, community and
    people's control over the natural and economic resources necessary for life
    and livelihoods, and sincere political decentralisation. Yet, none of these
    get central focus in the HDR, which is shocking given that the
    implementation of human rights was the central focus in the HDR 2000 report.

  4. Though at times advocating the need to ensure that people have a choice
    and are not saddled with one global formula, the biases towards only one
    model of technology are clear in some revealing sentences. It exhorts, for
    instance, 'developing' countries to take action for "bridging the
    technological divide and becoming full participants in the modern world".
    The report advocates that "farmers and firms need to master new
    technologies developed elsewhere to stay competitive in global markets". In
    so doing, it completely and amazingly ignores the scores of technological
    alternatives to hi-tech and biotech that have been developed by people,
    ordinary people, around the world, including in agriculture, medicine,
    industry, and energy.

  5. Such biases are seen in its advocacy of biotechnology, for instance. It
    commends Bt cotton technology for reducing the amount of pesticide sprays
    from 30 (for conventional cotton) to 3, and enabling greater production in
    countries like China. This completely ignores the fact that hundreds of
    farmers in India alone, have developed organic cotton production techniques
    that use no pesticides at all, and yet produce high quantitiesand in ways
    that are economically more profitable since input costs are very low.
    Advocating modern biotechnology by citing a few (dubious) success stories,
    while ignoring natural and organic agricultural techniques that are being
    used by thousands of farmers around the world, is a clear case of bias.

  6. The report honestly describes the enormous risks associated with genetic
    engineering, and even suggests that it is wrong to posit only a choice
    between conventional technologies and biotechnologies, since organic
    farming is also available.yet does not anywhere even examine, let alone
    advocate, organic or natural farming technologies.

  7. In its advocacy of strong policy measures to contain the risks of the
    new technologies, and ensure that their benefits reach the poor, the HDR is
    on strong ground. Unfortunately, it does not take this analysis far enough,
    in asking: who will push for these measures? Surely not governments, who
    have so far ignored them? It will have to be very strong ground-level
    mobilisation of affected people and communities, truly bottom-up pressure,
    that would assure such policy changes. Yet the technologies that can
    facilitate such community empowerment, such as organic farming and
    decentralised energy sources, are ignored in this report, and the
    technologies that can only further alienate people, such as complex
    biotechnology, are pushed! This is double-speak of a sophisticated, but
    nevertheless transparent, nature.

  8. It mentions the need to be "fair" in implementing Intellectual Property
    Regimes, and even admits that many communities do not favour such regimes
    at all... yet strongly advocates the continuation of universal regimes that
    will provide protection to formal knowledge systems. It does mention that
    informal systems exist, that indigenous knowledge systems are foundbut
    does not place these at the centre of its recommendations.

    Its Technology Achievement Index (on which India places a lowly 63), is
    based entirely on modern technologies developed in the formal sector. This
    completely ignores the thousands of diffused technological innovations that
    take place in countries like India.

These conclusions are lent weight by the sugar-coated but clear bias in the
HDR towards private capital, corporations, and the profit-motive. Listen to
this: "The broader challenge for public, private and non-profit
decision-makers is to agree on ways to segment the global market so that
key technology products can be sold at low cost in developing countries
without destroying markets --- and industry incentives --- in industrial
countries". So now, public good has to bend itself to suit private profit!

This year's HDR is a huge, huge disappointment. But what more can one
expect from a report, whose only mention of Monsanto Corporation,
universally criticised for its unethical and destructive practices, is a
citation of its agreement to transfer patented genes to the Kenyan
Agricultural Research Institute for virus-resistant potato varieties. Never
mind how much Monsanto has stolen from countries like Kenya.

Over the last couple of years, the HDR had become a welcome ally of those
fighting for greater justice and freedom, for greater equity amongst and
within nations and for a greater stress on the implementation of the human
rights and fundamental freedoms of the world's poor and marginalized. Last
year, for instance, it has explicitly highlighted the role of globalisation
and global forces, including the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and its
many agreements, in the violation of basic human rights and ecological
sustainability. The 2001 report's conclusions are a clear and devastating
turnaround and indicate the UNDP can no longer be relied upon to stand on
the side of the very people from whome it derives its credibility - the
disprivilaged millions across the world.

Signed:

  • Kalpavriksh, Environmental Action Group, Pune

  • Lokayan, Delhi

  • Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security, New Delhi

  • Habitat International Coalition, New Delhi

  • Deccan Development Society

  • Andhra Pradesh Coalition in Defense of Diversity, Hyderabad

  • International Group for Grassroots Initiatives, New Delhi

Contact Addresses:

Habitat International Coalition

Housing and Land Rights Committee

Tel/Fax: 91-11-4358492

E-mail: hichrc@ndf.vsnl.net.in

Kalpavriksh

Tel/Fax: 91-20-5654239

E-mail: ashish@nda.vsnl.net.in

AMP Section Name:Technology & Telecommunications
  • 192 Technology & Telecommunications

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