MNCs encouraging child labour in fields: Study
HYDERABAD, May 28
SEVERAL large national and multinational companies including Unilever, Monsanto, Syngenta, Advanta, Bayer and Emergent Genetics that produce and market hybrid cottonseed are involved in subtle ways of perpetuating child labour in India.
"The economic relationship behind this abuse is multi-tiered and complex, which masks legal and social responsibility", according to a study conducted by Dr Davuluri Venkateswarlu, Director of the Hyderabad-based Glocal Research and Consultancy Services. The India Committee of the Netherlands has commissioned the study.
The study states that the activities of the trans-national companies in the area of cottonseed business in India are not certainly in tune with what they claim about their commitment to socially responsible corporate behaviour. "Though they are not directly involved in employing children, their business strategies and profit motives encourage the environment which supports the practices of child labour in a big way".
It is estimated that nearly 4.5 lakh children, in the age group of 6 to 14 years, are employed in cottonseed fields in India. Of this, Andhra Pradesh alone accounts for 2.47 lakh children, this figure surpasses the total number of children employed in the entire carpet, glass bangles, diamond polishing and limestone industries in the country.
Dr Venkateswarlu conducted a field survey in five mandals of Mahabubnagar and Kurnool districts of Andhra Pradesh where 22 seed farms were producing hybrid cottonseed for Hindustan Lever, Syngenta India, Mahyco-Monsanto, Advanta India and Proagro, all of which are either subsidiaries or joint ventures of trans-national seed companies. HLL had recently transferred its seeds business to its subsidiary, Paras Extra Growth Seed Ltd, and formed a joint venture partnership with Emergent Genetics.
The survey revealed that children, in the age group of 6-14 years, constituted 88 per cent of the total labour force. Of the total child labour, the population of girls was 78 per cent. On the average, about 10 children are engaged for cultivation of one acre of cotton crop meant for hybrid seed production.
The farmers on long-term contract recruited most of the children employed by giving loans/advances to their parents. The average advance/loan paid against each child was Rs 1,500.
Besides, the children were made to work for long hours, up to 13 hours per day, and were paid lower wages than adults. On the average children were paid about 30 per cent less than the adult female and 55 per cent less than the adult wage rate in the market.
The working conditions of migrant children were far worse than local children. There were no specified working hours for them. They go to fields at about 5 in the morning and work till 7 in the evening. After returning from the fields also they are made to do few hours of work at the employee's house.
The study stated that the role of multinational seed companies in production and marketing of hybrid cottonseeds was rapidly increasing in the country. It was estimated that in 2000-01, five trans-national companies accounted for nearly 21.6 per cent (5,350 out of 24,783 acres) of the total area under hybrid cottonseed production in Andhra Pradesh. The number of children employed in farms producing and supplying seed for these MNCs was estimated to be around 53,500. Out of 53,500 children, HLL accounted for 25,000, Syngenta 6,500, Mahyco-Monsanto 17,000, Advanta 3,000 and Proagro 2,000.
Responding to the issue of employment of child labour in cottonseed production, the MNCs disowned any responsibility for the situation on the technical ground they do not employ children directly. They contended that they have third-party seed organisers who get seeds produced from farmers and supply to them. They argue that they were not responsible for the practices of local farmers with whom they don't directly make any contracts.
The study, however, states that the MNCs claim about having no control over farmers and production process and employment of child labour by the farmers are "not true". It points out that though most of the companies are not directly involved in production process and making agreements with seed farmers, "they exert substantial control over farmers and production process by way of supplying foundation seed and fixing the procurement prices. It is the company that sets quality standards to be followed by farmers for cultivation of seeds in the fields. Company representatives, with the help of seed organisers, make frequent visits to the farmers fields to check whether or not they are following norms prescribed by the company while cultivating seeds".
In fact, Dr Venkateswarlu stated, the issue of child labour in hybrid cottonseed production had received special attention off late and 120 cases were booked against farmers for employing children.