The Vienna Economic Development Conferences and Technology Forums, 1979

In the first of a series, MOTHER EARTH NEWS contributor Copthorne Macdonald offered his impressions of several economic development conferences and technology forums held in Vienna, Austria in 1979.


| January/February 1980



061 vienna technology forums - UN conference

The United Nations Conference of Science and Technology for Development (UNCSTD) proved generally unresponsive to the needs of the world's poor nations.


PHOTO: COPTHORNE MACDONALD

In 1979MOTHER EARTH NEWS' own Copthorne Macdonald returned from an extended European trip, during which he attended the U.N. Conference of Science and Technology for Development (UNCSTD) in Vienna . . . the Non-Governmental Organizations Forum (NGO Forum) held in the same city . . . and Britain's Community Technology Festival (COMTEK). This was the first in a series of reports on these economic development conferences and technology forums.  

Just imagine for a moment that you're a government official in a poor land ... a country where many babies don't live to see their first birthday. Given the opportunity, you'd certainly be willing to make a deal with a multinational corporation to have that firm build a pharmaceutical plant in your nation ... especially if the company agreed to limit the plant's profits to a reasonable level above its costs. After all, such an arrangement would provide your people with a reliable supply of inexpensive drugs ... which might help save some of those children from dying, right?

Wrong! You see, the "fine print" in the arrangement says that the "raw" chemicals used by the pharmaceutical plant must be purchased from other companies owned by the same corporation. Now you might have thought the stipulation unimportant during the negotiations, but the truth of the matter is that the supplier firms will probably charge up to 1,000% more than the open market price for the raw materials ... so the finished medicines won't be inexpensive at all!

Unfortunately, this example isn't some far-fetched, barely possible scenario. It's an only slightly modified case history of one of the many rip-offs perpetrated against developing countries by multinational corporations. It was in the hope of eliminating at least a portion of just such injustices—and, in effect, of getting a technological "fair deal" from the rich lands that are the home base for most international corporations—that representatives of 120 have-not nations banded together at the U.N. Conference of Science and Technology for Development.

Small Concessions (Or None at All)

Although the United States (as well as many other developed countries) claims to be perfectly willing to share its technology with poor nations, the fact is that, in western lands, at least-the governments don't often own much technology. Instead, such knowledge is usually in the hands of large corporations . . . and is only sold by the firms at their price and on their terms.

The have-not countries that attended UNCSTD (they were represented by a coalition called the Group of 77) hoped to eliminate the unfairness that's a part of many transfers of technology from wealthy lands to poor ones. However, their initial proposal (which would have resulted in a binding international agreement to eliminate the monopolistic and exploitative practices of multinational corporations) was defeated.





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