Answers by Minister Van Gennip (Economic Affairs) and Minister Bot (Foreign Affairs) (received 25 November 2005) to
Questions by Tjon-A-Ten and Douma, members of Dutch parliament (both PvdA), about the violation of the rights of adults and children by multinationals (3 November 2005)
Have you taken note of the report published by the India Committee of the Netherlands ‘The Price of Childhood’2 and the report ‘Elimination of Child Labour in Cotton Seed Farms through social Mobilisation’ by the Indian MV Foundation?2
Do you hold the opinion that, because of the determining role in the production chain of the three companies active in the Netherlands, this is such a serious violation of human rights that the Netherlands should address the companies and the governments of their home countries (respectively the United States, Germany and Switzerland) on this issue? If not, why?
Do you share the opinion that the companies Bayer, Monsanto and Syngenta -all active on the Dutch market-, as well as the Indian companies involved, are co-responsible for the violation of human rights in the cottonseed production, including child labour, bonded labour, the right to health and the right to life?
Are you, if necessary, prepared to have independent research undertaken on these human rights violations and to take action on the basis of the results? If so, when? If not, why?
Is it possible to file a complaint with the National Contact Point (NCP) about the three involved companies which have offices in the Netherlands? If so, are you prepared to submit the above-mentioned reports and possible complementary research to the NCP and, after hearing numerous parties involved, to ask NCP for their opinion? If so, when? If not, why?
Answer questions 2-5
In conformity with agreements in the OECD the Dutch NCP can only answer questions about Dutch companies that are active in countries that are not party to the OECD guidelines or the behaviour of foreign companies in the Netherlands. The questions concerning the behaviour of the companies mentioned in question 2 can of course be submitted to the NCP of their respective countries.
The Dutch government does not consider it to be her duty to address foreign companies regarding their behaviour outside The Netherlands or to investigate this behaviour. That is the task of the authorities of either the country where the (supposed) violations have occurred or the authorities of the home countries of the companies involved. The Dutch government neither considers it her duty to confront foreign governments with the behaviour of these companies. In the context of the EU, the ILO and the OECD however, The Netherlands repeatedly draws attention to the importance of implementation of the rights and norms that have been agreed upon.
Do you think the NCP should perform a more active role, for example by conducting pro-active research on sectors with high ‘CSR-risks’, by testing the performance of companies operating on the Dutch in relation to the OECD-guidelines for multinational companies? If not, why? If yes, in which manner could the NCP play a more active role?
As appears from clear from the ‘Procedural Guidance’ of the OECD guidelines, a general investigation task does not belong to the mandate of an NCP. NCP’s investigate cases that are brought forward by stakeholders. I do not want to meddle with this starting point agreed upon in the OECD. There is however an investigation under way on the function of the Dutch NCP. I cannot anticipate on the results of that research. I expect the outcomes in the spring of 2006.
Are you informed about the activities of the ILO – specifically with regard to their programme in India - with regard to the violations of fundamental and other labour rights in the cottonseed production? Are you of the opinion that the ILO should play a more active role in stopping these human rights violations by combining efforts with multinationals, Indian companies, the local government, labour unions and NGO’s to set up and implement a plan of action. If so, are you prepared to share that opinion with the ILO?
The ILO, in cooperation with a.o. UNICEF and UNDP, already plays an active role in India concerning the eradication of violations of labour rights in cottonseed production, in particular in relation to child labour. Among others the ILO/IPEC Andhra Pradesh State Based Project is set up to fight child labour in the cottonseed production in the districts Kurnool and Mahabubnagar. In the first phase of this project 32 villages in Bhutpur Mandal in Mahabubnagar district have cooperated with the employers association CEASE and local seed producing companies. The result is that more than 1000 children have been taken from their work situation and are now going to school. From one of the reports its also appears that the number of children active in the cottonseed production in the period 2002-2004 has decreased from 70% to 50% of the total working population.
With regard to your question about drafting an action plan, the following is worth mentioning. The ILO decides in consultation with other actors, with a methodology approved by the donors, on the bases of received requests for help, where technical assistance will be granted. The concern of the ILO appears from the fact that the ILO supports a number of projects in India on the issue of cottonseed production.
Is UNICEF India active in tackling the extensive and serious forms of child labour in the cottonseed production?
Yes. “Child protection” is one of the priority areas of the work of UNICEF. In the “Child Protection” program in India, the focus is on the fight against child labour, trade and sexual exploitation of children in the states Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. Since a number of years UNICEF has programs in Andhra Pradesh for the elimination of child labour in the cottonseed sector and among seasonal workers. In partnership with the government and local NGO’s, UNICEF works on education, advocacy, knowledge sharing and support with legislation and implementation. These programs have led to renewed involvement of the government of Andhra Pradesh to eliminate the worst forms of child labour.
What is the state of affairs concerning the expansion of the OECD guidelines, in particular those for multinational companies, to trade relations?
Within OECD at the moment there is no question of extending the OECD guidelines to trade relations. What, however, is happening is the further elaboration of the Dutch proposal that I have placed on the agenda in the OECD- Trade committee advocating an investigation about the way in which companies deal with their supply chain responsibility, about the voluntary initiatives that have been taken, about the areas in which these initiatives have been taken and whether or not there are any white spots involved, and most importantly: if all these initiatives together are still understandable for the consumer. The role that governments could play in this is also being looked at. The trade committee will make a decision on the Dutch proposal to investigate in the beginning of 2006.
Are you prepared to raise this matter within the European Union with the aim of discussing the issue in the political and human rights dialogue with India?
In the political and human rights dialogue with India, human rights violations are generally taken up. Child labour, in particular the worst forms, are part of these discussions. Besides that, contributions are made in different ways to initiatives for the promotion of social corporate responsibility in India. It is however, not the task of the Netherlands or the EU to raise specific cases with the Indian government.
1. D. Venkateswarlu & L. da Corta, On the Link between Prices paid to Farmers and the use if Child Labour in Cottonseed Production in Andhra Pradesh, India, Study commissioned by India Committee of the Netherlands
(ICN), International Labor Rights Fund, Eine Welt Netz (NRW), 2005.
2. Elimination of Child Labour in Cotton Seed Farms through Social Mobilisation, MV Foundation, Project Report March 2004 to January 2005, Secunderabad, India.