Indian Activists Welcome MNC Pledge to Ban Child Labor
NEW DELHI, Oct 28 (OneWorld) - In a major initiative, Indian child rights activists and some of the world's biggest seed companies are joining forces to end the practice of child labor in southern India's cottonseed fields.
According to MV Foundation, a child rights organization based in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, a committee will shortly be formed to help enforce the ban.
A statement issued Friday by human rights groups India Committee of the Netherlands, Amnesty International Netherlands, Novib/Oxfam Netherlands and FNV Mondiaal says seed majors have agreed to work with MV Foundation to eliminate child labor from the cottonseed industry.
The decision to form a committee was taken by seed multinationals Monsanto, Emergent Genetics, Hindustan Lever1, Syngenta, Advanta and Proagro, a subsidiary of Bayer, and some leading Indian seed companies, at a meeting in Hyderabad, the capital of the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, last month.
It is estimated that some 450,000 children in the six to 14 age group work in cottonseed fields in India.
"We are now going to follow up the MNC's pledge to end child labor," says Shantha Sinha, the secretary of MV Foundation. "Our first step would be the formation of the committee," she says.
"It is a very big move, because earlier MNCs were even denying the fact that children were being employed in the industry," enthuses Sinha, this year's winner of the prestigious Magsaysay award conferred on noted Asian social activists. "We are certainly moving ahead," she says.
The MNCs' move follows a report in May that some of the biggest global companies were employing children in hybrid cottonseed farms. The report titled "Child Labor and Trans-National Seed Companies in Hybrid Cottonseed Production in Andhra Pradesh" - said nine out of ten workers in cottonseed fields are children.
The children worked for long hours under hazardous conditions and were paid less than half a dollar a day, said the report, published by the India Committee of The Netherlands, an organization working for the marginalized in India.
The companies who participated in the Hyderabad meeting were members of the Association of Seed Industry (ASI). ASI's annual assembly also passed a resolution "to pro-actively discourage directly and through its members the practice of child labor in hybrid cottonseed production and further take effective steps along with other stakeholders towards eradication of this evil from the hybrid cottonseed industry."
The statement by the Dutch rights groups states that, "The outcome is a real breakthrough in view of the ongoing debate on the issue."
Sinha stresses that the focus will now be on the formation of the committee comprising representatives of the MNCs and MV Foundation to implement the ban.
"We have to now sit together and work out a plan on how to stop child labor by next March," she says. In March 2004, a meeting of MNC representatives and the MV Foundation is slated to be held to take stock of the progress made in this regard.
The ban, Sinha points out, has to be in place before the next cotton season starts in April. "That is when labor contractors begin their feverish activity of employing children," she states.
The MNC-led move was initiated by the Swiss seed multinational, Syngenta, which agreed to draw in other top seed companies for a joint monitoring effort with the MV Foundation after a meeting with the Indian nongovernmental organization in June this year.
The Association of Seed Industry decided to set up a Child Labor Eradication Group for an internal monitoring of labor practices. It would also work out a plan with MV Foundation for an external monitoring of the ban.
The companies would provide a list of farmers with whom they have a contract for cottonseed production. Local Child Rights Protection Committees would monitor the labor employed by the farmers.
The May report pointed out that farmers in southern India provide hybrid cottonseeds to Indian companies and MNCs by forcing local villagers to put their daughters to work in the fields.
The children are lured by promises of loans in summer, a season when they face severe financial difficulties due to lack of work.
"These girls work long days, are paid very little, are deprived of an education and are exposed for long periods to dangerous agricultural chemicals," the report said.
For over 12 years, the MV Foundation has been advocating a ban on the employment of children in the cotton fields. Its efforts have led some 250.000 children, earlier employed in cottonseed farms, to join school.