The false slippery slope fallacy in sustainability practices

Graduands of Bachelor of Laws during the 73rd graduation ceremony at Makerere University, Kampala on February 13. PHOTO/FRANK BAGUMA

What you need to know:

  • The manufacturing industry’s gargantuan appetite to majorly implement only what is heavily regulated is the disease whose cure is yet to be found. It is how things fail rather than how they work.

Thursday, November 23, saw a PhD public defense by a prominent economics scholar Alinda Kassim, under the title “Sustainability Practices of Manufacturing Firms in Uganda”.

This fine defense aired to the public under the auspices of the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research of Makerere University Business School (MUBS).

Dr Kassim’s PhD thesis followed a sequel of his publications under a similar topic on sustainability in a couple of Journals, some of which featured overviews, challenges and opportunities on the same amongst Manufacturing Firms in Uganda.

His, and other scholarly papers from different authors, present well refined and articulated presentations of findings from the manufacturing firms. 

Consequently, they are heavy on the statistical perspective and skewed towards academia but less on the industry’s real prognosis. 

The missing ingredient itself gets lost in the translation. In the end, the symptom is addressed rather than the disease.

The manufacturing industry’s gargantuan appetite to majorly implement only what is heavily regulated is the disease whose cure is yet to be found. It is how things fail rather than how they work.

Perceivably, it is disconcerting to discuss Sustainability Practices (SPs) without catching a view of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Sustainable Development Goal 9 touches on Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure.

A number of other researches and findings have been done over a period of time in response to SDGs.  Unlike other areas, the manufacturing sector has experienced scattered periods of boom and bust.

The 2023 Special Edition Report, for one, on Sustainable Development Goals published on July 10, clearly highlights that, although the share of manufacturing as a proportion of GDP in Low Developed Countries (African ones being the majority) has increased from 12.1 per cent in 2015 to 14.0 per cent in 2022, the pace is insufficient to reach the target of doubling its share by 2030.

This coming after the report’s introductory “promise-in-peril” far cry, that, halfway to 2030, The Sustainable Development Goals are disappearing in the rear-view mirror, as is the hope and rights of current and future generations. 

Calling out for a fundamental shift in commitment, solidarity, financing and action – to put the world on a better path, lamenting that it is needed now than ever.

Commonly referred to as the, dam burst fallacy, domino fallacy or thin end of a wedge,  the slippery slope fallacy is an argument that claims an initial event or action will trigger a series of other events and lead to an extreme outcome. 

As it stands today, the majority of the prescribed manufacturing-industry-interventions by policy scholars that lack an element of draconian “regulate-able” regulations provide for a false slippery slope. They wouldn’t create a fine ending in itself. They provide for social lubrication.

Secondly, whereas the numerous papers and researches, point to certain solutions by seeming to diagnose the industry problems with evidence to substantiate their claims, the slippery slope fallacy I predict, is that, it anticipates this chain of events that shifts the attention of those in Office to steer the country’s policy direction towards a downward spiral, yet these findings beg extreme hypotheticals making them lose sight of the issue itself.

Clearly, there is tangible progress in most areas that have been highly regulated. There is in fact a measurable and fundamental leap forward. Not because the manufacturing firms care to try, neither because they so much seek to implement Sustainable Practices.

But because certain strategic draconian regulations from regulatory bodies like UNBS, URA, NDA, MTIC and the rest, don’t leave room to act otherwise, because that is the only way to remain operational as an entity. With this model, implementation of sustainable practices evolves organically.

It becomes woven in the very fabric by which manufacturing firms themselves are created, just in the same way, local content in the National Oil and gas Policy for Uganda is to Oil and Gas Firms.

It is neither because the scholars are wrong in the methodologies they use for data interpretation nor is it because they fall short at its analysis, but once the house owner decides that it is to be built on sand, one loses the appeal to blame the finest Engineer contracted to build it once it later collapses.

Solomon A. Mutagaya, Chemical Engineer, Director of Research and Development at Bouyant QMS Ltd, Industrial Policy Commentator.