In the framework of the Training Course on
Nanotechnologies, Labor and Society, organized by Casa Bertolt Brecht, the IUF’s
Latin American Regional Office (Rel-UITA) and the Outreach Program of the
University of the Republic, SIREL spoke with Guillermo Foladori, anthropologist,
economist and researcher at Mexico’s Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas, who
traveled to Uruguay to participate in this event.
-How did the
idea for organizing a nanotechnology course come up?
-Two years ago
we formed a Latin American Nanotechnology and Society Network (RELANS),
primarily academic, which focuses on prioritizing issues that have to do with
the relationship between nanotechnology and work. In August we will publish the
first book that gives a diagnosis of the situation of nanotechnology in the
different countries of Latin America. At the same time, we are trying to
participate in and organize activities in different countries with the aim of
discussing the implications of nanotechnology for society in general and the
risks that it entails. It’s good to be able to work together, because this is a
joint effort of the IUF, Uruguay’s University of the Republic,
Casa Bertolt Brecht and RELANS, which reveals that there is a common
interest in issues that at the international level are not given the
consideration that they merit.
nanotechnology is discussed internationally it is to highlight the potential
benefits of products that contain or are produced with nanotechnology, because
these are items that in terms of utility will be more beneficial than anything
we have previously known, as they introduce novel functions; but there is almost
no talk of –or research on– the effects on health, the environment and labor.
This is not being
examined from the perspective of the risks it entails for workers that handle
products treated with nanotechnology, nor is there any thought to what it will
mean in terms of employment, because nanotechnology will affect how labor is
-In what way?
difficult to foresee the specific impacts it will have on labor, but what is
foreseeable is that the impacts will be both great and very radical, so that the
governments that finance this kind of technologies must pay special attention to
these matters, allocating a part of their resources to researching such
consequences. Sadly, this isn’t happening, and the issue is dealt with only when
social organizations demand it.
-What field is
nanotechnology currently being used most extensively in?
military field, without a doubt. The military industry has invested a lot of
money in research. Right now it is very difficult for any civilian sector to
progress without the military sector making use of its advances for their own
purposes. This is also the most difficult area to obtain information from.
have pioneered the use of this new technology?
States has broken new ground in all the areas where nanotechnology is being
used. Europe also has nanotechnology programs, but production is limited
to the United States and several Asian countries.
If we look at it in terms of economic standing, we’re talking about the most
developed countries, and if we think in terms of companies, we have that the
largest corporations account for more than 80 percent of all nanotechnology
research, patents and applications in concrete products.
So there is a very strong concentration that continues previous trends. It would
be absurd to think that any new technology could escape corporate tendencies.
-What is your
evaluation of how the issue is disseminated?
-It depends on
the area and on the image that the public is given of the technology; in some
cases it is announced as the new solution to many problems: its advocates hail
it as the solution to hunger, diseases and energy and water purification
problems, and in that sense it gets wide coverage. Then there is the sectorial
level, and there it is surprising what a great deal of exposure there is for
information on nanotechnology in the textile industry, while there’s absolutely
no information on the use of nanotechnology in the food industry and in the
agriculture and cattle products industry. In the cosmetics industry, for
example, where advertisements made explicit reference to the use of
nanotechnology, there has been a radical change: over the last six months that
information was pulled out of the industry’s web sites.
challenges do social organizations and civil society face with the potential
impacts of nanotechnology?
is more receptive and more careful of new technologies, because people have
sensed that these do not emerge from a need or a demand from the population, but
rather, first a technology is invented and only afterwards is an application
found for it. It’s like a backward business. If we look carefully at what’s
happened with GMOs in the last five or ten years, we’ll see that in many
European countries they’ve already been banned. The same thing could happen
with nanotechnology if we press for more thorough investigations and if health
and environmental concerns are put before business interests. Today we’re seeing
exactly the opposite: The market is being flooded with things, with a
we’ll-deal-with-it-later attitude, which is why we need to see how we can
organize ourselves to convince governments to regulate nanotechnology and to
take the potential impacts seriously.
researcher and academic, in your opinion what are the prospects in terms of
overcoming these challenges?
-It’s a hard
battle, but not an impossible one. In business, there is great interest in
regulating everything related with nanotechnology. There is a particular
interested among the insurance companies, because they don’t want to risk
investing capital in something that could later turn out to be catastrophic.
It’s too risky. Even
major trade associations want all nanotechnology products to be labeled
indicating their content, because they don’t want consumers to accuse them of
selling them goods that could be harmful to their health.