EARTH Thailand

Show corporate responsibility

Bangkok Post 02 December 2009 | EDITORIAL

That the ruling by the Supreme Administrative Court on the suspension of 76 industrial projects at Map Ta Phut, scheduled to be delivered today, comes a full month earlier than expected is good news, because the final verdict will put an end to all uncertainties and allow every party involved to move on in the right legal direction.

The bad news, however, is whether or not the Supreme Administrative Court endorses or overrules the injunction issued by the lower court in September, the struggle to find a balance between economic growth and environmental as well as public health needs is unlikely to end.

Indeed, the fact that the injunction against the 76 industrial projects was issued because a hearing must be organised for a case filed by Rayong villagers against state agencies over the alleged illegal issuing of industrial operating permits, is a testament in itself that the public sector and civil society groups have woken up and are determined to pursue their rights and interests to the full extent provided by the law.

The activist Srisuwan Janya, president of the Stop Global Warming Association who filed the suit that led to the Map Ta Phut injunction order, already announced that he would continue to push for the industry to comply with the Constitution, which stipulates that environmental, natural resources and health impact studies must be done before a project or activity that may seriously affect the community is allowed to take place. Mr Srisuwan is targeting as many as 181 industrial projects nationwide. He said he would start filing the first case on Dec 11.

The pertinent point is today's ruling, no matter which way it goes, will not halt the ongoing surge in individual and community rights awareness and protection. As society advances, it becomes more open. Respect for civil rights and liberty must therefore be clearly defined and enshrined in the law to avoid clashes. A verdict that overturns the lower court's suspension-of-activities order may give state agencies and industrialists some breathing room but, as evident in Mr Srisuwan's resolute stance, the reprieve - if it is granted - is destined to be short-lived. A systematic approach and legal mechanisms that recognise both the needs of industrialists and the demands of communities that exist around factories must be established.

That the four-party panel chaired by former prime minister Anand Panyarachun is making steady progress in solving the conflict at Map Ta Phut is another piece of good news. The panel's approach of looking into the relevant data and classifying the industries so that an appropriate solution can be mapped out for each group is encouraging. Its agreement to push for the establishment of a truly independent body to monitor pollution and to advise the government also points to the start of a more organised, long-term attempt to resolve the conflict, rather than having conflicting parties fight each other in one court case after another.

The current 2007 Constitution may have many flaws which deserve amending, but its Part 12, Section 66 and 67, which recognises community rights and the right of a person to the quality of environment, natural resources and health, befits our changing society. After all, no one has the right to pollute the commonly-shared environment and no one should have to live with toxins. During this time when corporations are touting the importance of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), compliance with the law is actually the minimal standard. To be really responsible, corporations must be more progressive and work together with communities to ensure sustainable growth and the continued capacity-building of all stakeholders.