US Companies, Monsanto and Emergent Genetics, Still Profit from Bonded Child Labor on Cottonseed Farms in India
There are estimated 12,300 children working in horrendous conditions on cottonseed farms in India producing for multinational corporations (MNCs), out of which 4,400 were found on farms supplying to Monsanto's subsidiary, Mahyco-Monsanto, and nearly 5,000 children on farms supplying to Emergent Genetics - both of which are US based companies.
The International Labor Rights Fund, with its partners in Europe and India, today release a joint report, "Child Labor in Hybrid Cottonseed Production in Andhra Pradesh: Recent Developments", which exposes western MNCs who CONTINUE to profit from bonded child labor on their cottonseed farms in India.
The report is a follow up of an earlier report which revealed that in 2002 an estimated 53,500 children, accounting for 90% of the total labor used in cottonseed production, were working on farms producing for MNCs, namely Unilever, Bayer, Monsanto, Emergent Genetics, Syngenta and Advanta. As a result of local and international pressure, the MNCs and national companies have acknowledged the pervasive problem of child labor on their farms and agreed to work with local groups, such as the reputed MV Foundation (MVF), to alleviate the problem. However, companies' promises have not translated into solid actions, apart from awareness meetings with farmers.
In a separate statement, MVF refers to a number of fatal accidents of working children in 2004 due pesticide exposure on farms and road accidents while traveling in overcrowded cars to and from work. There is no doubt that thousands of children continue to toil on farms in bonded labor and inhumane conditions that are prohibited under Indian laws and the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour.
A second report published today on child labor and labor conditions in cottonseed production in other two major Indian cottonseed productions states, Gujarat and Karnataka (read the report), provides evidence of another 117,800 children working under similar dismal circumstances for national and western companies, including Monsanto.
- In the 2003-04 season, a total of 84,00 children worked on cottonseed farms in Andhra Pradesh, India, out of which 4,400 children were found on Monsanto's farms and 4,950 on Emergent Genetics' farms.
- Child labor accounted from 40% to 85% of the total labor employed depending on different regions.
- 70% of the child laborers are in debt bondage employed on a long-term contract through loans and advances to their parents. Some are trafficked from nearby villages and are made to live in poorly ventilated labor camps (huts) provided by the farmers.
- Children as young as 7 years old have been found working on the cottonseed farms.
- Children work 9-10 hours in a day in normal season and 11-13 hours during peak seasons directly exposed to pesticides and extreme weather conditions.
- In June 2004 alone, there were reported three deaths of children, 8, 12 and 13 years old, from pesticide poisoning on the cottonseed farms.
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), ten major private companies, including Monsanto and Emergent Genetics, control about 70% of India's hybrid cottonseed business. Bama Athreya of the International Labor Rights Fund says, "Due to the powerful and dominating presence of the few MNCs, a small change in their practice would have a ripple effect of eliminating child labor not only in their farms but also on other farms throughout India."
However, as the report reveals, sincere efforts are lacking at the companies' level to eliminate the practice of bonded child labor. Monsanto has refused to share list of villages where they are operating despite its earlier agreements to do so to allow local groups to conduct external monitoring. The companies, represented by the Association of Seed Industry, have also refused to address the issue of pricing as low procurement prices paid to farmers have led them to use of cheap bonded child labor.
According to Shantha Sinha, General Secretary of MV Foundation, "It has proven time and again beyond doubt that the powerful global players who claim to uphold themselves to their codes of conduct and corporate social responsibility have flouted all norms of human rights and values."
Meanwhile, in July 2004, the Fair Labor Association (FLA), a labor monitoring group made up of industry, NGOs, and universities, accepted Syngenta (Switzerland) as a "Participating Company" to apply its monitoring methodology as a pilot program in the agricultural sector.
The International Labor Rights Fund, the India Committee of the Netherlands, the Federation of Dutch Trade Unions, Amnesty International Netherlands, Novib/Oxfam Netherlands as well as Germanwatch, Coalition Against Bayer Dangers, Global March Germany and German Agro-Action demand that all cottonseed companies, and in particular the multinational companies:
- Immediately formulate and implement a plan of action to eliminate all child labour in the cottonseed industry in India and ensure that every child goes to school. This should be done in close cooperation with civil society organisations and government authorities. In Andhra Pradesh, the present cooperation with the MV Foundation should be intensified in order to reach the objective that no child should work in cottonseed production in the new 2005-2006 season.
- Pay fair procurement prices to farmers to allow them to hire adult laborers and pay them at least the official minimum wage as well as equal wages for both men and women.
- Eliminate all forms of bonded labour in cottonseed production in India.
- Respect the workers' right to freedom of association and collective bargaining.
- Provide training to farmers and seed organisers on safe handling of pesticides, and provide protective gear and clothing for pesticides handling.
- Provide public, independently monitored, and verified evidence on the implementation on the above demands.
Read: see also Press Release India Committee of the Netherlands
- Child Labor in Hybrid Cottonseed Production in Andhra Pradesh: Recent Developments
- Child Labor in Hybrid Cottonseed Production in Gujurat and Karnataka
- MV Foundation Public Statement
For more information contact:
Bama Athreya, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ther Aung, email@example.com
International Labor Rights Fund
Gerard Oonk, firstname.lastname@example.org
India Committee of the Netherlands
John Harrington, email@example.com
Harrington Investments, Inc.