Multinational corporations reap profits from child labor in India's cottonseed farms
NEW DELHI - A new report says an estimated 12,375 children continue to work under terrible conditions on cottonseed farms in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh which supply their produce to multinational corporations (MNCs) like Bayer and Monsanto, in defiance of last year's promises to eradicate child labor.
The detailed study titled "Child Labor in Hybrid Cottonseed Production in Andhra Pradesh: Recent Developments", was released today by nongovernmental organization, the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN), in co-operation with its partners in Europe and India, and the International Labor Rights Fund (USA).
It names Dutch MNC Advanta and US-Dutch company Emergent Genetics as some of the others who get produce from these farms.
The report adds that more than 70.000 children are working for Indian seed companies under similar circumstances. The children work long hours, do not go to school and are often bonded to the employers by loans. It alleges that a number of children have died or fallen seriously ill due to exposure to harmful pesticides.
It regrets that companies have taken no concrete measures to curb child labor in the sector.
A second report on child labor and labor conditions in cottonseed production in the states of Gujarat and Karnataka in western and southern India, testifies that another 117,800 children under 15 are also working under execrable conditions for multinational and Indian companies.
Many more young workers (15-18) and adults, often tribal migrant workers, are badly exploited as well. Both children and adults work 12 to 14 hours a day and earn around 50 cents a day.
The report on Andhra Pradesh is a follow up of a May 2003 report which revealed that in 2002 an estimated 53.500 children were working on farms producing for multinationals and almost 200,000 for Indian companies.
At that time children accounted for 90 percent of the total labor force in cottonseed production, which has now declined to almost 60 percent. Sadly, the decrease in child labor cannot be attributed to a greater sense of responsibility, but due to a decline in cottonseed cultivation in the state thanks to drought.
Due to local and international pressure, MNCs and some big Indian companies acknowledged the rampant problem of child labor on farms which are contracted by their agents, called seed organizers.
In September 2003 these companies, represented by the Association of Seed Industry (ASI), decided to work towards the eradication of child labor in collaboration with other stakeholders like the MV Foundation, a reputed NGO based in Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh, but failed to keep their promises.
For example, only after a public outcry caused by the "pesticide death" of a working child in July 2004, three companies finally shared the list of villages and seed organisers with MVF in order to facilitate joint monitoring of farmers.
The report alleges that the delaying tactics of the companies within ASI prevented them from making a significant positive impact on the child labor situation in 2003.
Shantha Sinha, General Secretary of MVF, points out that they have been able to pressure many small and big local farmers to free children working for them and even sponsor their education.
But she adds that this is not the case with farmers working for big multinational and international seed companies.
As she puts it, "They are locked in a unequal partnership under contractual relationship with a powerful industry... 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."
According to the Andhra Pradesh report the companies have failed to address the issue of low procurement prices paid to farmers which spurs them to use cheap bonded child labor.
Ironically, the report adds that in July 2004, the Fair Labor Association (FLA), a labor monitoring group comprising industry, NGOs and universities, has accepted Syngenta (Switzerland) as a "Participating Company" to apply its monitoring methodology as a pilot program in the agricultural sector.
According to recent field reports from MVF a significant number of children were found working on farms supplying to Syngenta.
A slew of international NGOs like The India Committee of the Netherlands, the International Labor Rights Fund (USA), Amnesty International Netherlands, FNV Mondiaal (Netherlands), Hivos (Netherlands), Novib/Oxfam Netherlands, Germanwatch, Coalition against Bayer-dangers (Germany) and Global March Germany have issued a six-point charter of demands to cottonseed companies, and MNCs.
Their charter asks them to immediately implement a plan of action to eliminate all child labor in the cottonseed industry in India and ensure every child goes to school, in close cooperation with civil society organizations and government authorities. It adds that in Andhra Pradesh, the present cooperation with the MV Foundation should be intensified to ensure that no child works in cottonseed production in the new 2005 season.
It urges MNCs to 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.
It stresses that the corporations should eliminate all forms of bonded labor in cottonseed production in India, and respect workers rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. It also says farmers and seed organizers should be trained on safe handling of pesticides, and provide protective gear and clothing for this.
Finally, the charter asks farmers to provide public, independently verified, evidence on the implementation of all these demands, to ensure they are complied with.