Onderstaand artikel is gepubliceerd in/Published in: Financial Express, 21 April 2004      

Dutch Union to Meet HLL Brass

Namrata Singh

Mumbai, April 20 Dutch union FNV, to which Unileverís unions are affiliated, will hold a meeting with vice-chairman of Hindustan Lever Ltd (HLL) MK Sharma on Wednesday to discuss, among other issues, the child labour controversy concerning Paras Extra Growth Seeds, in which HLL has a 26 per cent stake.

A delegation of FNV headed by president Lodewijk de Waal, is in India and will visit Hyderabad to discuss the problems with child labour in cotton seeds production.

Unilever claims to be committed to the highest standards of corporate and social responsibility. Sources said that the objective behind the delegationís visit is to get an assurance that such issues do not crop up in the future.

However, an HLL spokesman reassured that HLL, as enjoined by its Code of Business Principles, does not use any form of forced, compulsory or child labour.

The problem of child labour was first unearthed by Davuluri Venkateshwarlu, director, Global Research and Consultancy Services, Hyderabad. A study commissioned by India Committee of Netherlands (ICN), throws light on the deployment of child labour by trans-national seed companies in hybrid cottonseed production in Andhra Pradesh. Currently, there are about 200 seed companies involved in production and marketing of hybrid cottonseeds in India, including several other multinationals.

Emergent Genetics holds the balance 74 per cent stake in Paras Extra Growth Seeds, and according to the HLL spoke-sman, "HLL has, as on date, no management control on Paras Extra Growth Seeds Ltd."

"HLL entered into contracts with Bharti Seeds to organise production of Hybrid Cotton Seeds based on parental lines supplied by HLL. Bharti Seeds, in turn, entered into contracts with farmers to undertake production of cotton seeds on their farms. It is the farmers who undertake the activity of production on their farms, investing in all the inputs (other than the parental lines) including labour, irrigation, fertilisers etc., and hybrid seeds were then delivered to Bharti Seeds who in turn post quality check, would deliver the seeds to HLL," the spokesman said.

The relationship between the parties was of buyer and seller. The contract with Bharti Seeds clearly stipulated that during seed multiplication, they would ensure compliance with the laws of India. "This would include prohibition and employment of child labour and engagement of bonded labour. Contracts had subsequently been further strengthened to explicitly stipulate that child labour should not be engaged for seed multiplication activities or any activity engaged with the companyís operations," the spokesman added.

The companyís field personnel, said the spokesman, from time to time had visited farms, where seed multiplication was being undertaken and have found that no child labour or bonded labour is employed in undertaking hybrid cotton seed multiplication activities for Paras.

The seed industry, of which Paras Extra Growth Seeds is a member, has since then in collaboration with a local NGO, MV Foundation (headed by Dr. Shanta Sinha), worked out a plan of action to be carried out under the modalities of the Child Labour Eradication Group of the seed industry. A monitoring body has also been set up, comprising representatives of NGOs and the Andhra Pradesh Government. The parties concerned have carried out camps with cotton seed farmers - particularly in Kurnool - to educate them about the ills of child labour. "HLL, on its part, has - despite exiting from seeds over two years ago and now having only a nominal interest in the business, which too it is committed to exit in the next 12 months - offered to work with NGOs and provide such support as the NGOs consider appropriate," the spokesman added.

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India Committee of the Netherlands / Landelijke India Werkgroep - 22 april 2004