How Western Business Can Bring Prosperity to Asia – Elites Block New Technologies

Foreign Policy wrote an interesting article on 10 Reasons Countries Fall Apart, and I am writing parallel posts about Western businesses in Asia. I believe they have the opportunity to bring prosperity to Asia, and are missing that opportunity in some ways.

Obviously, I am no expert on what I want to write about –  I am just a simple person with some observations and personal experiences. My introduction to this series of posts will explain this all better.

5. Elites Block New Technologies – Corporations Disregard Workplace Health & Safety
Foreign Policy cites an example of countries that chose to adopt railway technology, and those that blocked its introduction. In “1840s, tiny Britain was undergoing a railway mania in which more than 6,000 miles of track were built, while only one railway ran in vast continental Russia – it ran 17 miles from St. Petersburg to the tsar’s imperial residence.” Austria also chose not to adopt rail technology, and “as Britain and the United States grew rapidly – Austria and Russia failed to do so.” As FP states, new technologies “redistribute not just income and wealth but also political power.”
Just a huge unmarked steel trip risk on an unlit bar floor…
Obviously, Workplace Health & Safety isn’t a technology in particular, but it involves various technologies and new mindsets that have not become common practice in Asia. I acknowledge a safety mindset isn’t particularly prolific in a society where dad holds the new born baby in one arm and steers the scooter with the other – and it’s totally acceptable. So yes, I can see how this translates into an employee’s complacency – but it shouldn’t translate into an employer’s complacency. Nevertheless, construction workers will jackhammer without hearing protection, or work on drains during torrential rain in bare-feet. And office workers will become unemployable if they can’t work 12 hour and above days, due to bad backs or repetitive strain injury. And women with injured ankles must wear high heels as part of their sales uniform. And people working outdoors at theme parks may not wear hats or sunglasses, even though they are spending at least 5 hours in the sun each day. These are real life examples of people I know, or have observed, who work in Western corporations in Asia, run by local management.

I believe a society advances most when members aren’t seen as disposable. To me, this means not turning a blind eye to how all operations are run down to the lowest employee. Western business would bring prosperity to Asia by ensuring local management runs operations according to ethical safety standards – not just issuing direction to the higher levels and then turning a blind eye to the rest. A safety mentality brings prosperity just simply because of the lower levels of injuries and acquired disabilities. But also, a safety mentality redistributes political power in an organisation, limiting the possibility of unethical employers treating employees as disposable resources . If Western businesses operated in this safety-paradigm in Asia, and showed it’s not only possible but profitable, it sets the path for other employees to demand it of their employers. This is already a clear trend with flexible work practices in Western businesses that quickly become preferred employers in Asia – and I could see a strong case for this happening with Western businesses enforcing strict workplace health and safety standards too.
Btw, if you’re wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR – here‘s my explanation.

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  • 7 November 2012