The India Committee of the Netherlands headed by our trusted friend Gerard Oonk released "The Price of Childhood", a report by Dr. Davuluri Venkateswarlu and Lucia da Corta. According to them the seed companies are responsible for large scale child (bonded) labor. According to a recent report of the MV Foundation, 11 children in Andhra Pradesh died and 3 were severely injured due to accidents caused while traveling to work and due to inhalation of pesticides working in the fields. Many children have health problems like headaches, vomiting and depression. Often they don't have access to medical aid.
The research clearly shows that farmers would have a net loss if they would hire adults at the local minimum wage instead of children and teenagers. That is by far not the case for the companies. The market prices of one kg of cotton seed is 3.6 up to 12.1 times as high as the procurement price paid to the farmer. If companies would pay for the substitutiton of child labor for adult labor it would cost them between 4.29% and 21.3% of their profit. If paid by the consumers the seed would cast 3.2% to 10.9% more.
Companies like Bayer, Monsanto and Syngenta do acknowledge that there is substantial child labor in their supply chain and that they are at least partly responsible for that. They do however, deny that there is a relation with the price they are paying to cotton seed farmers. Multinational companies and Indian companies have been criticised since 2001 by the MV Foundation, for allowing and abetting child labor in cotton seed production. This has been supported by northern NGOs like the India Committee of the Netherlands, the International Labor Rights Funds and a number of German organizations by applying pressure on multinational companies to eliminate child labor in their supply chain.
While in earlier years not much was done by the companies except giving statements against child labor, this year a policy was agreed upon by Bayer and Monsanto - supported by Syngenta which has a 'crop holiday' in Andhra Pradesh in 2005 - consisting of monitoring, incentives and sanctions. The companies promised a bonus of 5% to farmers working without child labor. Violations however, would, after a first warning, be sanctioned by a reduction of 10% and finally a rejection to purchase the seeds. Indian companies like Ankur, Nusiveedu and Raasi did not take any action thus far, despite promises by the Association of Seed Industry of which they are members.
After a few months of joint inspections with multinationals, the MV Foundation however decided in September to discontinue this kind of cooperation. It found for example, visits were announced by the companies to the farmers. The result was that they only found a few children, while unannounced visits by the MV Foundation offered to continue a farm of independent monitoring and provide the result to the companies, local authorities and the public.
According to Dr. Venkateshwarlu there are around 83000 children still working in cotton seed production in AP. Around 12000 of them are for multinational companies. Almost all these children are either Dalits or from backward castes.
- From the Desk of Gerard Oonk, The India Committee of the Netherlands.