Child Labour and Trans-National Seed Companies in Hybrid Cotton Seed Production in Andhra Pradesh


A new system of employing female children as 'bonded labourers'1 has come into practice on hybrid cottonseed farms in south India in recent years. Local seed farmers, who cultivate hybrid cottonseeds for national and Multinational Seed Companies, secure the labour of girls by offering loans to their parents in advance of cultivation, compelling the girls
The present study is supported by India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN). The author is grateful to Prof. Shantha Sinha (M.V. Foundation), Gerard Oonk (ICN) and Lucia da Corta (Oxford university) for their suggestions and comments on the earlier version of this draft. He wishes to thank Mr. N. Sambasiva Rao who has assisted him in field work and all those people (representatives of seed companies, seed organisers, seed farmers, children working on farms) who have cooperated and given their time for collection of data.
to work at the terms set by the employer for the entire season, and, in practice, for several years. 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 introduction of hybrid cottonseeds in the early 1970s has brought significant changes in the quantity and quality of cotton production in India. It has not only contributed to the rise in productivity and quality of cotton, but has also helped to generate substantial amount of additional employment in the agricultural sector. Despite its positive contribution, hybrid cottonseed production gave rise to new forms of labour exploitation which involves the employment of female children as bonded labour and large scale exploitation of them. An important feature of hybrid cottonseed production is that it is highly labour intensive and female children are employed in most of its operations.

What distinguishes child labour in cottonseed production from other industries which employ child labour is that it involves relatively large numbers and female child labour constitutes majority of the total labour force. It is estimated that nearly 450,000 children, in the age group of 6 to 14 years, are employed in cottonseed fields in India, in which Andhra Pradesh alone account for about 247,8002. This figure surpasses the total number of children employed in industries such as carpet, glass bangles, diamond polishing gem polishing and limestone put together in India. Moreover child labour in these industries does not exceed 25%, with a majority of them beings boys.3

Though hybrids are used in cotton cultivation all over the country, hybrid seed production is concentrated in South India, particularly in the Telangana and Rayalaseema regions of Andhra Pradesh, which alone account for about 65 % of the seed production in India.

The exploitation of child labour in cottonseed farms is linked to larger market forces. Several large-scale national and multinational seed companies who produce and market the seeds have involved themselves in subtle ways in perpetuating the problem of child labour. The economic relationship behind this abuse is multi-tiered and complex, which masks legal and social responsibility.

Currently there are about 200 seed companies involved in production and marketing of hybrid cottonseeds in India, including several multinational companies (MNCs) like Unilever, Monsanto, Syngenta, Advanta, Bayer and Emergent Genetics. MNCs are operating their seed business activities through their own subsidiary companies in India or joint ventures and collaborations with local Indian companies. The names of Indian subsidiaries or joint venture companies of above mentioned MNCs are Hindustan Lever Limited (for Unilever Plc), Syngenta India (for Syngenta AG), Advanta India (for Advanta BV), Monsanto India and Mahyco (for Monsanto), Proagro (for Bayer) and Mahendra Hybrid Seeds (for Emergent Genetics)4. In March 2002 Hindustan Lever Limited (HLL) transferred its seed business to a subsidiary company called 'Paras Extra Growth Seeds' and formed a joint venture partnership with Emergent Genetics. HLL sold 74% of its share in Paras Extra Growth Seeds to Emergent Genetics.

The role of MNCs in cottonseed business has increased significantly in recent years due to various trade liberalization policies introduced by the government after 1991. The recent approval of government of India in April 2002 for introducing BT (Bacillus Thuringiensis) cotton in Indian market is expected to bring far reaching changes in terms of greater control of MNCs, which have patent rights over genetically modified technology, over Indian seed industry in near future.

Though all the MNCs mentioned above claim that they are committed to highest standards of socially responsible corporate behaviour their activities in the area of cottonseed business in India are certainly not in tune with their claims. Though they are not directly involved in employing child labour their business strategies and profit motives encouraging the environment which supports the practices of child labour in a big way. The present study is an attempt to examine the linkages between multinational seed companies and local seed producers and role of MNCs in perpetuating the problem of child labour in hybrid cottonseed farms in AP.

Objectives of the study
  • To explore the nature of linkages between multinational seed companies and local seed producers who employ children in production of hybrid cottonseeds in Andhra Pradesh.
  • To estimate the number of child labour employed in cottonseed farms producing and supplying seed to multinational seed companies.
  • To examine the trends in employment of child labour in cottonseed farms since 1990.
  • The examine the response from MNCs to the problem of child labour in cottonseed farms.

The data used in this study are drawn from both primary and secondary source material. The data on nature of work in cottonseed farms, division of labour, terms and conditions of employment, socio-economic background of children etc; are partly drawn from author's previous studies (Venkateswarlu, D., 1998, 2001, 2001a)5. This information is supplemented with a fresh field survey conducted for the purpose of this study on working conditions of children in 22 seed farms in five mandals namely, Sanjamala, Nandyala, Gadval, Dharur, Maktakal in Mahaboobnagar and Kurnool districts which are producing seed for MNCs like Hindustan Lever, Syngenta, Mahyco, Advantha and Proagro6. The field survey was conducted during the months of December 2001 and January 2002. Of the total 22 seed farms 12 are producing seeds for HLL, three each for Syngenta and Mahyco and two each for Proagro and Advanta.

The estimates of area under hybrid cottonseed cultivation, business relationship between seed companies and local seed farmers are based on the primary data collected from various sources such as government reports, information provided by seed companies, interviews with representatives of companies, seed organisers and seed producers. The number of children working in cottonseed farms is estimated on the basis of per acre requirement of number of labourers and children's ratio to the total labour force.

Structure of the report

The report is presented in four sections. The first section briefly describes the nature of work, terms and conditions of employment, age composition and socio- economic background of the children employed in cottonseed farms. Section two provides estimates of area and number of children employed in cottonseed production. It also discusses the role of private seed companies in production and marketing of hybrid cottonseeds. Section three discusses the complex and multi-tier linkages between MNCs and local seed producers who employ child labour for production of hybrid cottonseeds and role of companies in perpetuating child labour. The recent interventions in addressing the problem of child labour and companies response are discussed in the final section.


India Committee of the Netherlands / Landelijke India Werkgroep - April 24, 2003