May 19, 2003
Unilever asks its Indian subsidiary HLL to discuss child labour
On the 15th of May the issue of child labour in cotton seed production was discussed between Unilever Netherlands and the India Committee of the Netherlands, the Confederation of Netherlands Trade Unions, Amnesty International, Novib/Oxfam Netherlands and the Indian M. Venkatarangaiya Foundation (MVF). Unilever agreed to ask her Indian subsidiary Hindustan Lever to have a meeting in the region of production (Andhra Pradesh) with MVF.
The MV Foundation is a very renowned non-governmental organisation that has more than ten years of grass-roots experience in fighting child labour and getting more than 150.000 children into full-time education. The organisation is also closely involved in combating child labour in cotton seed production and has already been able to hundreds of these children from work to school. Furthermore it has actively pursued a dialogue with companies involved in child labour in cotton seed production.
The Dutch organisations do hope that the discussions between HLL and the MV Foundation will now lead to concrete measures for the benefit of children producing cotton seed in India. Together with their Indian partners, they will closely watch the results.
The Dutch organisations that brought the issue of child labour in cotton seed production to the attention of Unilever, regret that Unilever has provided the press and the public with incorrect information, in particular in its press release of May 5th 2003.
Contrary to Unilever's contention that the NGOs have not sought contact with HLL, MVF has been trying to establish contact with HLL in Mumbai, thus far without results. However there have been contacts with Paras Extra Growth Seeds Ltd in Andhra Pradesh. Hindustan Lever Ltd. (HLL), the Indian subsidiary of Unilever, owns 26% of the shares of Paras and was full owner up to March 2002. The contacts with Paras have not led to any concrete results yet.
In its press release Unilever also mentions its extensive correspondence and talks on the issue. The fact is that there has been one letter from Unilever, avoiding to take any responsibility for the issue, and one meeting in February 2002 at the request of the Dutch organisations. During this meeting a draft report was handed over to Unilever. After that there has been no reaction or correspondence on the report's content.
Code of conduct
In its code of conduct Unilever stipulates that it does not allow any form of child labour and that its expects their partners to behave likewise. Child labour is also banned in its relations with suppliers through clauses in contracts and a monitoring system. Nevertheless large-scale child labour in cotton seed production for Paras - around 25.000 children - is taking place at farmers working for Paras. This is the result of elaborate research by Dr. Davuluri Venkateswarlu commissioned by the India Committee of the Netherlands.
Apart from Unilever, the Dutch organisations also send the report of Dr. Venkasteswarlu to the Dutch seed multinational Advanta. The report shows that they are making use of the labour of about 2.700 children. Advanta has publicly admitted that there is a problem, even though they minimise their own role in it. They do however say that they are willing to look for solutions in a constructive dialogue with the local authorities and the non-governmental organisations.
See also press release 'Unilever, Monsanto and other multinationals involved in large-scale child labour in India's cotton seed production' (May 14, 2003): http://www.indianet.nl/pb030514.html.|
For the report 'Child Labour and Trans-National Seed Companies in Hybrid Cotton Seed Production in Andhra Pradesh' by Dr. Davuluri Venkateswarlu, see: http://www.indianet.nl/cotseed.html. Dr. Venkasteswarlu, director of Global Research and Consultancy Services, is also the author of the report 'Seeds of Bondage - Female Child Bonded Labour in Hybrid Cotton Seed Production in Andhra Pradesh' published by Business and Community Foundation and Plan International (India Chapter) in 2001.
For the press release of Unilever (May 5, 2003), see: http://www.unilever.com/mediacentre/pressreleases/2003/20030505_child_labour.aspx.
For more information:
Gerard Oonk, co-ordinator India Committee of the Netherlands