Biopiracy Propagated via Corporations in Foreign Developing Nations

From India to Brazil, nearly every corner of the developing world currently faces the issue of biopiracy. The act of commercial institutions residing in one country patenting a product which originates from a different country not only takes an unfair advantage of the victim nation, but also hinders further development of it. In an attempt to fight back against patents, governments such as the government of India have argued that these products are a part of the nation’s knowledge and therefore cannot be patented by outsiders. However, indigenous people have a harder time fighting for their rights against large corporations and are often not represented. Their plants continue to be taken from them via patents and their livelihoods are damaged along with the nation’s government and economy.

Large corporations, in the interest of making a profit, reason that the original country wouldn’t have the money to develop the product anyway. The controversy comes over the debate of whether the product belongs to the entity that develops it or the one that commercializes it. The UN member nations have been moving to eradicate biopiracy and protect the rights of indigenous people for decades. In November of 1988, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) called upon the Ad Hoc Working Group of Experts on Biological Diversity to discuss the necessity of propagating biological diversity in order to prevent complete destruction of one’s livelihood with the “robbery” of a single crop. One year later the Ad Hoc Working Group of Technical and Legal Experts was established to put together an international legal instrument for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. Later, the Ad Hoc Working Group became known as the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee.

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In 1993, the Convention on Biological Diversity was summoned in order to agree upon the equal distribution of ownership rights of upcoming genetic resources, and to brainstorm strategies for the conservation of biological diversity. The CBD implemented the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety which preside over the movement of living modified organisms from one nation to another. In 2006, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was created and was considered to, “represent the dynamic development of international legal norms and it reflects the commitment of the UN’s member states to move in certain directions.” More recently in 2010, the Nagoya Protocol was used to address the concern of liability involved with any damage to the living modified organisms while traveling internationally. Additionally, the desire to slow plant extinction was a key part of the Gran Canaria Declaration Calling for a Global Plant Conservation Strategy. The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs has played a key role in representing the rights of indigenous people.

The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, an advisory body to the Economic and Social Council, is one of three committees dedicated to discussing exclusively indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights. In addition, Conventions 107 and 169 under the International Labor Organization are committed to establishing the rights of indigenous people. Along with these actions, the United Nations continues to see the issue of biopiracy and rights of indigenous people to be of rising importance. In order to successfully combat the concern brought to attention by biopiracy, the European Union should refrain from urging developing nations to take part in negotiations that allow more economically well off nations to patent their intellectual property. These resources should instead be used as a tool to help the countries they come from to flourish in a socioeconomic sense.

Nations should be encouraged to sign the Nagoya Protocol. Many members of the European Union believe that the EU should be providing legal assistance and training to developing nations to give them a better and more informed understanding of patent application systems. Additionally, process of granting patents should be strengthened. Patent offices should require applicants to provide proof of the origins of the components of their product, and bring forth evidence of the ingredients being obtained fairly and legally. Only under such provisions can we prevent cases of biopiracy, and ensure the reliability of patents being created on the basis of mutual agreements and understanding from both parties.