As part of the paper presentation I gave at the recent International Conference on Thai Studies, I concluded by posing the question whether there was anything especially Thai about the industrial estates in Thailand. Since I only had a minute to conclude, I rather threw away this point and then, asked about it later, I did not have chance to develop a proper answer. Consequently, I will make a few observations here as to what I would have said, given additional time.
The question concerns whether there are cultural issues that differentiate industrial estates in Thailand compared to industrial estates anywhere else. My answer is no, on the following grounds:
- The industrial estate concept is an international one that has been put into practice in numerous countries around the world and essentially in the same method. It is a market-based model of operation and, as such, has little room for cultural variation.
- Most firms are internationally owned (primarily Japanese) and domestic investors are, these days, largely controlled and managed by executives who have received international business education. The success of the modern business school is such that best practice has become known, understood and used in schools in nearly all countries. Again, best practice – which largely comes from the USA with Japanese workplace and organizational management technology added – is technocratic in nature and has little scope for incorporating cultural aspects.
- Workplace conditions are largely based on international norms as espoused by the International Labour Organization and, even when important conventions on freedom of association and collective bargaining have yet to be ratified by the Thai government, employment conditions in modern manufacturing are conducted according to capitalist logic.
Industrial estates are spaces in which special forms (or relaxations of) law are put in place for the purpose of achieving specific developmental goals in the sphere of economics. If anything, therefore, cultural practices are more important outside industrial estate spaces than within them.