October 24, 2003
Press Release of India Committee of the Netherlands, Amnesty International Netherlands,
Novib/Oxfam Netherlands and FNV Mondiaal
Multinationals pledge to end child labour
in Indian seed production
Seed multinationals Monsanto, Emergent Genetics, Hindustan Lever1, Syngenta, Advanta and Proagro (a subsidiary of Bayer) as well as some big Indian seed companies, have agreed to co-operate with the MV Foundation (MVF) - a reputed NGO in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh - to eliminate child labour from the cotton seed industry. The companies will come up with a concrete proposal in October 2003.
This was the outcome of a meeting between these companies and the MV Foundation (MVF) in September in Hyberabad, capital of the state of Andhra Pradesh, India. The outcome is a real breakthrough in view of the ongoing debate on the issue.
The companies who were present are all members of the 'Association of Seed Industry (ASI). The annual assembly of ASI also passed a resolution on September 13th 'to pro-actively discourage directly and through its members the practice of child labour in hybrid cotton seed production and further take effective steps along with other stakeholders towards eradication of this evil from the hybrid cotton seed industry'.
These developments took place 4,5 months after the publication of a report on child labour in hybrid cotton seed production by the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN).2 It was revealed that almost 250.000 children under fourteen years of age, mainly girls, are working on hybrid cotton farms in Andhra Pradesh for long hours under hazardous conditions.
Dr. Shantha Sinha3, secretary of the MV Foundation and chairperson of the meeting, wrote to ICN: 'all companies recognised that children are being employed in the farms to which they have sub-contracted seed production. They also recognise that it is part of their corporate social responsibility to correct the situation'. She told Global Ethics Monitor4: 'all of them agreed for the first time they were responsible, which was a very big gain.'
Swiss seed multinational Syngenta, after having met MVF in June 2003, had agreed to contact other seed majors to set up a joint monitoring effort in collaboration with the MV Foundation. Paswan Malik, head Syngenta Seeds India, said that the formation of the group in September 'was an admission on behalf of the companies that they had responsibility for their third party contractors'.
Also Ranjana Smetaceck, spokeswoman of Monsanto India, stated wile referring to the joint meeting: 'We consider this our responsibility as everyone else would around the table'. She also feels that it is a 'pretty realistic target' to eradicate child labour from the Indian hybrid cotton seed production in the coming six months.
However, President Hugh Grant of Monsanto writes in a letter of September 18 2003 to the Washington-based International Labour Rights Fund that, being a minority owner of Indian company Mahyco, they 'encourage Mahyco to discourage inappropriate child labor practices'. No reference is being made to Monsanto's participation in the meeting in Hyderabad.
Unilever and Hindustan Lever Limited (HLL), the Indian subsidiary of Unilever, have rejected the accusation of using child labour in hybrid cotton seed production. Unilever stated that it made sure that its suppliers complied with the agreement not to use child labour.5 Both HLL and 'Paras' (in which HLL now has a 26% share) were present in Hyderabad.
It was agreed in the meeting on 7th of September that the Association of Seed Industry would set up a Child Labour Eradication Group, including a representative from every company, that will do internal monitoring. This group will also co-operate with MV Foundation and others to design a collaborative work plan and facilitate external monitoring.
According to Dr. Sinha, in a communication to ICN, this would include giving lists of farmers contracted by companies to MVF and monitoring of child labour through their local Child Rights Protection Committees. In addition training programmes, exposure visits and public meetings are envisaged.
The MV Foundation also has a long and successful experience in mobilising communities against child labour and preparing working children to enter full-time formal education. During the last twelve years around 250.000 children have thus been withdrawn from work and entered schools. Their view that 'no child should work and every child should be in full-time education' has also become the policy of the government Andhra Pradesh.
In March 2004 there will be a new meeting of companies and MV Foundation together to take stock of the progress made.
The India Committee of the Netherlands, Amnesty International Netherlands, Novib/Oxfam Netherlands and FNV Mondiaal will continue to monitor the results of the agreement reached with the MV Foundation and the resolution of the Association of Seed Industry.
See the Appendix for more background information.
For more information:
Gerard Oonk, India Committee of the Netherlands
- Hindustan Lever had a cotton seed division up to March 2002; they sold this division to Paras Extra Growth Seeds in which they have a share of 26%. The rest of the shares are owned by US-based Emergent Genetics.
- 'Child labour and trans-national seed companies in Hybrid cotton seed production in Andhra Pradesh:. See: http://www.indianet.nl/cotseed.html.
- Mrs. Shantha Sinha recently received the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for her and MVF's outstanding work on child labour and education.
- See: http://www.globalethicsmonitor.com. Global Ethics Monitor published a number of articles on the issue, including on September 23 and 24 September 2003. Other quotes in this press release are from these articles as well.
- See press release 'Unilever rejects accusation of using child labour', May 5, 2003; (http://www.unilever.com/news/pressreleases/englishnews_8517.asp). See also attached background information.
Unilever/Hindustan Lever Limited
on the responses of multinational seed companies
Representatives of the MV Foundation, Amnesty International Netherlands, Novib/Oxfam Netherlands, the Federation of Dutch Trade Unions (FNV) and the India Committee of the Netherlands met twice with Unilever: in February 2002 and May 2003. In February 2002 a draft report on Unilever's role was submitted and in April 2003 the final report was sent to Unilever. According to the ICN-report 25.000 children were estimated to be working for farmers supplying seeds to Hindustan Lever.
In both meetings it was agreed that representatives of Hindustan Lever (HLL) and MV Foundation would further meet in India to discuss the issue. Finally, in September 2003 a representative of HLL participated in the meeting with other companies and MVF as part of the joint effort to eradicate child labour from hybrid cotton seed production.
Unilever and Hindustan Lever have rejected the accusation of using child labour in its cotton seed sub-contracting chain. In its press release of May 5 2003 HLL stated that it 'has always laid down in its contracts that suppliers must not use child labour' and adds that 'it has made sure that its suppliers complied with these agreements by conducting regular checks, through visits by making inquiries and by requiring confirmation of compliance with the agreements.'6
However, in June 2001 - after the publication of 'Seeds of Bondage', the first report on the issue - HLL published a statement (''Hind Lever clarifies') in the newspaper Business Line stating that the 'practice [of the farmer] of using his family member or outside labour cannot be governed by us'. It also states that 'HLL has no dealings whatsoever, with any of the farmers/labour'.7
Emergent Genetics (EG) is a private equity investment firm focusing exclusively on seed and related biotechnology and an important US-based global player in hybrid cotton seed. It holds 76% of the shares of Paras Extra Growth Seeds (26% is owned by Hindustan Lever) and also owns the Indian company Mahendra Hybrid Seeds.
In a meeting during October 2002 between the MV Foundation, ICN, FNV and Mr. Ram V. Kaundinya, director of Paras Extra Growth Seeds and vice-president of Emergent Genetics, the latter said that there is still a child labour problem in hybrid cotton seed production. Their contracts with the seed organisers do however have a 'no-child labour clause' which is supervised by the company through regular checks. There is, Kaundinya admitted hen, no sanction for those who violate the clause. At the meeting also a follow-up meeting with MVF was promised, which - despite efforts by the MV Foundation - did not take place.
After the publication of the ICN-report Emergent Genetics became more active on the issue. A follow-up meeting with MVF was held. In June 2003 Mr. Kaundinya, in an e-mail to ICN, confirmed his earlier statements on the still existing problem of child labour. He also expressed his willingness to work with the government and NGO's on solving this 'deep rooted socio-economic problem'.
Until their participation in the consultative meeting on 6th and 7th of September in India, Indo-US company Mahyco-Monsanta has not been involved in local discussions on the issue. According to the ICN-report 17.000 children were working for farmers supplying seeds to Monsanto.
On July 17, 2003 the International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) from the USA wrote a letter to Monsanto stating that even though Monsanto does not directly employ the children itself, it has 'immense control over de the production process of the hybrid cotton'. It therefore urges Monsanto 'to work towards elimination of the worst forms of child labor in your supplier farms'. It adds: 'as the second largest seed company in the world, you have the financial capability and the legal responsibility to do so'. ILRF also explicitly states that they would welcome a dialogue with Monsanto to discuss 'specific actions you can take to monitor and remediate abuses of labor rights among your suppliers'.
In a reply on September 18, 2003 President Hugh Grant of Monsanto states that 'even with our minority position [in Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company - Mahyco], however, we encourage Mahyco to steps to discourage inappropriate child labor practices..'. Grant also mentions hat Monsanto India is part of the 'Consortium of Employers' Associations for the Elimination of Child Labor (CEASE Child Labor) established ILO-IPEC in Andhra Pradesh.
Nothing is being said in the letter about the outcome of the meeting in Hyderabad on September 6th and 7th, nor is there a reference to the statements made by Mrs. Smetaceck of Monsanto India admitting responsibility for solving the issue and claiming that it is a realistic target to eradicate child labour from Indian cotton seed production in the coming six months.
In Germany the Coalition against Bayer-Dangers (CBG) and the Global March Against Child Labour (German section) have publicised the issue and translated the report in German. The ICN-report estimates that 2.000 children are working for farmers supplying seeds to Proagro. Bayer, 100% owner of Proagro, admitted in the German press there is child labour in cotton seed production but denied all direct responsibility. Bayer said there should be a clause against child labour in their contracts with the seed organisers as well as additional audits.
On October 16, 2003, CBG has filed a complaint against Bayer with the German National Contact Point of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Companies. The complaint is based on the obligation to contribute to the abolition of child labour, also in the case of suppliers.
On April 24, 2003, the Dutch campaigning organisations send a letter on the issue to Dutch seed multinational Advanta, which has a 50% share in Advanta India. The ICN-report estimates that 3.000 children are working for farmers supplying seeds to Advanta India. On May 12, 2003 Advanta Netherlands replied that small farmers work on the land with their whole family and make use of 'support from the neighbourhood' during the busy season. In this context, Advanta says, it cannot directly preclude that children are working as well. In addition Advanta referred to clauses in the contracts with local producers which stipulate that illegal child labour should be avoided, but also states "it is impossible for seed companies to to steer and monitor what happens on so many small farms".
After additional correspondence with the India Committee of the Netherlands, Advanta agreed to discuss the issue in its India Board meeting last August, after which it participated in the meeting in Hyderabad on 6 and 7 September 2003.
The Swiss company Syngenta had already been studying the issue of child and bonded labour at their cotton seed suppliers in 2001/2002, but was dragging its feet to implement a rigorous policy to tackle the issue. The ICN-report estimates that 6.500 children are working for farmers supplying seeds to Syngenta. An article8 on Syngenta's involvement in child labour on the front page of the major Swiss newspaper Blick - triggered by the ICN report - did prompt them to take up the issue again.
Syngenta agreed in a June 2003 meeting in Hyderabad with the MV Foundation, Unicef and government officials to be monitored by an independent committee, including representatives of NGO's and government. Immediate action will be taken when children are found. A very significant decision taken was also that Syngenta promised to pressurise other companies to do the same. They were indeed able to bring other companies together with the MV Foundation in September 2003.
For more information contact
Gerard Oonk, co-ordinator India Committee of the Netherlands, tel. 31-30-2321340, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- See for this and other articles or documents on the issue: http://www.indianet.nl/katoenz.html.