Societal Impact of Nanotechnology - Potential Benefits and Risks For Developing Countries - Social Justice and Civil Liberties

Social Justice and Civil Liberties

Concerns are frequently raised that the claimed benefits of nanotechnology will not be evenly distributed, and that any benefits (including technical and/or economic) associated with nanotechnology will only reach affluent nations. The majority of nanotechnology research and development - and patents for nanomaterials and products - is concentrated in developed countries (including the United States, Japan, Germany, Canada and France). In addition, most patents related to nanotechnology are concentrated amongst few multinational corporations, including IBM, Micron Technologies, Advanced Micro Devices and Intel. This has led to fears that it will be unlikely that developing countries will have access to the infrastructure, funding and human resources required to support nanotechnology research and development, and that this is likely to exacerbate such inequalities.

The agriculture and food industries demonstrate the concentration of nanotechnology related patents. Patents over seeds, plant material, animal and other agri-food techniques are already concentrated amongst a few corporations. This is anticipated to increase the cost of farming, by increasing farmers' input dependence. This may marginalize poorer farmers, including those living in developing countries.

Producers in developing countries could also be disadvantaged by the replacement of natural products (including rubber, cotton, coffee and tea) by developments in nanotechnology. These natural products are important export crops for developing countries, and many farmers' livelihoods depend on them. It has been argued that their substitution with industrial nano-products could negatively impact the economies of developing countries, that have traditionally relied on these export crops.

It is proposed that nanotechnology can only be effective in alleviating poverty and aid development "when adapted to social, cultural and local institutional contexts, and chosen and designed with the active participation by citizens right from the commencement point" (Invernizzi et al. 2008, p. 132).

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