EARTH Thailand

Transnational Investments and Responsibility for Social and Environmental Justice: Lessons from the Industrial Development Policies and Practices of Japan and Thailand

Author: Zaw Aung, October 2016

Transnational investments shifted increasingly from industrialized to industrializing countries when economic globalization accelerated in the late twentieth century. Industrialization has been the only viable choice for developing countries to catch up to the industrialized countries and serves as a dividing line between the terms "developed" and "developing" when demonstrating a nation’s economic status. As the world’s developing countries mostly exist in Asia and Africa, Japan demonstrated its extraordinary ability to gain the status of the first developed nation in Asia after World War II. Later on, countries in East and Southeast Asia followed Japan’s economic growth model to improve their economies, becoming Newly Industrializing Countries (NICs) through transnational investments from industrialized countries into the region. If one tracks the records of both industrialized and industrializing nations, it is clear that industrialization does not simply come with economic prosperity, but it also generates complex social and environmental transformation in societies.

In this context, the research conducts a study of industrial developments in Japan and Thailand as case studies. The former is the industrialized; the latter is the industrializing. The main purpose of choosing Japan and Thailand is the significant flow of transnational investments from Japan to Thailand, starting in the 1980s—the decade in which Japan experienced the double shocks of the rise of Middle East oil prices and the appreciation of the Yen, both of which greatly limited industrial expansion at home and spurred Japan to look for a greener pastures in Southeast Asia. This is when Thailand started to become a favorable destination for Japan’s new industrial settlements.

This research takes on three well-known cases in Minamata and Yokkaichi cities in Japan and Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate (MTP IE) in Rayong Province, Thailand. The outbreak of methylmercury water pollution in Minamata Bay was a massive environmental and social tragedy for Japan in mid 1956. This was followed by the air pollution in Yokkaichi known as "Yokkaichi Asthma" in the early 1960s. The industrial pollution in Map Ta Phut emerged with Thailand’s industrialization in the mid 1990s. The research explored two main questions: What are the different environmental and social policies and practices used in Japan and Thailand to address industrial pollution? What Transnational Investments and Responsibility for Social and Environmental Justice: 5 lessons can be learned through the correlation of transnational investments and industrial pollution in Japan and Thailand?

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