Onderstaand artikel is gepubliceerd in/Published in: The Financial Times, May 12, 2004      

Syngenta opens up to independent scrutiny

Syngenta, the Anglo-Swiss agrochemicals group, had no idea that it might be using child labour in its supply chain until the news was splashed across the pages of the Swiss Sunday tabloid Blick nearly a year ago, writes Alison Maitland.
The report, based on an Indian study, named it as one of a number of multinationals and Indian companies supplied by farms in Andhra Pradesh that employed young children, particularly girls, in cottonseed production.

Syngenta investigated and concluded that it was "highly likely" that a small number of children had been employed in the past. But by the time it was in a position to respond, the damage was done. "Cottonseed production in India is one of their smallest business units, but it proved to be their Achilles heel," says Auret van Heerden, chief executive of the Fair Labor Association, a non-profit body.

The FLA has now been hired by Syngenta to advise it on how to monitor standards on the farms that supply it indirectly via contractors and sub-contractors. Under the agreement, the FLA will make its findings public. This is a first for the agricultural industry. To date, the FLA has worked on supply chain issues only with companies in the clothing and footwear sectors.

"It's a very brave leadership decision," says Mr van Heerden, a South African former anti-apartheid activist. Michael Stopford, Syngenta's head of global public affairs and government relations, accepts there are risks in being publicly evaluated on the FLA website. "That's where, if things go wrong, the NGOs will have fun with us." But he says that working with external groups and submitting to external monitoring is the way to regain credibility.

He has discussed the child labour issue with United Nations representatives and the MV Foundation, a leading Indian child rights organisation, as well as other companies with Indian production such as Bayer, Monsanto and Unilever. Syngenta, which is more used to fighting fires over genetically modified crops, has promised to ensure that its cottonseed production employs no children by next year. It has told contractors and growers that their business will be terminated if they use child labour. However, there is flexibility for children to help on family farms outside school hours.

The company has also agreed to donate Dollars 25,000 (Pounds 14,000) to support village and community education, including a "bridge school" to ease former child labourers back into the education system. The FLA will check farms for child labour and examine school attendance records. But it will also have a much wider remit, examining labour conditions and the health and safety of adult workers. It will collaborate with the MV Foundation, and through it with village committees, to promote the importance of schooling.

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