Unprincipled capitalists need to feel the heat

Unprincipled capitalists need to feel the heat

Rows and rows of denuded mountains stretch as far as the eye can see. That is what many of the once green mountains in Nan have have now become.

Who are the evil hands behind such vast destruction?

The hill peoples and their slash-and-burn cultivation? Most Thais will say "yes" given the public tendency to demonise hilltribe people _ something Thais are taught in school.

Not MR Disnadda Diskul, however, when he was talking about the royal projects to rehabilitate hill peoples' livelihoods and the environment in Nan.

"It's greed, the filthy greed of the contract farming business," said the chairman of the Royal Initiative Discovery Institute during the Global Dialogue on Sustainable Development last week.

The hill peoples, he added, were mere victims of contract farming.

The rapid expansion of corn plantations in the mountainous terrain in the North has not only caused vast deforestation, but also widespread haze. Hill peoples almost always get the blame.

Some environmentalists have been trying to tell us about the forests being destroyed by corn plantations through contract farming initiated by agro giants which need to supply their feed industry.

Few listen to them. Least of all government officials. You know why.

Now that the criticism finally comes from an organisation with royal links _ openly and harshly _ will it make any difference? Or does it just show the problems have become too grave to ignore?

Given the agro industry's astronomical wealth and political power over all parties in this country, I doubt we will see meaningful moves from the authorities.

MR Disnadda voiced his frustrations when addressing the forum which called for "moral capitalism".

The prevailing top-down business model that ruthlessly exploits the environment and the workforce to maximise profit has concentrated wealth in the hands of the few, widened disparity, aggravated injustice, and punished small people across the globe with natural disasters caused by man-made, industry-induced global warming.

That was the message that ran through the conference that brought together top names in the government, the private sector, academia, as well as members of civic and grassroots groups.

Another message is that businesses must change their ways to save the world from ever increasing natural disasters, recurring economic crises, and violence arising from inequality.

But how to do it? How to make businesses see the light?

Do we need to cite the various figures highlighting the damning disparity and injustices in the world?

Something like the world's richest 1% of people own 40% of global assets while the bottom half of the world's population own barely 1% of global wealth, and one in eight people around the world still suffer chronic hunger.

Or perhaps by citing scary facts about the global warming nightmares ahead?

Through the power of persuasion, that change is for the businesses' own long-term interests, as well as for the future well-being of our children?

Or by looking more deeply at things around ourselves _ the way the system works, the way we equate happiness with consumption, the way we've come to see stark inequality around us as "normal" _ and start asking ourselves if it is just, if it feels right?

Indeed, real change is not possible if we fail to ask the right questions. We need to make the culprits feel the heat.

The sufficiency economy concept initiated by His Majesty the King is lauded worldwide because it addresses the much-needed moral dimension of development and capitalism.

The words "sufficiency economy" or settakit por piang in Thai are in national plans, government policies, business slogans. Just about everywhere. But it remains an empty mantra. The government continues to pursue environmentally destructive projects, turns a blind eye to polluting industry, and ignores the urgent need for land reform as well as decentralisation. In short, justice remains shunned.

Up in the hills of Nan, people like MR Disnadda and some community groups are trying to salvage the environment and the hill peoples' livelihoods through the sufficiency approach that pursues self-reliance, resilience and moderation. But admit it, they simply cannot catch up with the expanding corn plantations and money temptations.

When we question unethical business practices and stop buying, the message will get through. Now we know what to do.

Sanitsuda Ekachai is editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post.

Sanitsuda Ekachai

Former editorial pages editor

Sanitsuda Ekachai is a former editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post. She writes on social issues, gender, and Thai Buddhism.

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