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E-4617/05EN, 31 January 2006

Answers of Mr. Spidla on behalf of the European Commission,
to questions of Max van den Berg (PvdA/PSE) (28 November 2005)

Subject: 'Multinational companies foster child slavery'


The recently published research report ‘The price of childhood’ shows that multinationals outsourcing cotton seed production to Indian farmers pay far too little to enable them to hire adults. This regards Bayer, Monsanto and Syngenta, all three of them companies operating on the European market. The farmers should get almost 40% more for their product to be able to pay adults the legal minimum wage of one Euro per day. Now they are using child labour. Children work about 13 hours a day, even while crops are being sprayed with dangerous pesticides. The farmers would loose money if they would hire adults at the legal minimum wage instead of children. That does not apply to multinational companies.

  1. Does the Commission share the opinion that companies like Bayer, Monsanto and Syngenta, as well as Indian companies involved, are responsible for violating human rights, including those on child labour, forced labour, the right to health and the right to life?

  2. Does the Commission have the intention to address the companies involved as well as the home countries (Germany, Switzerland and the USA respectively) regarding their obligation to implement the fundamental labour rights treaties that have been agreed upon in the International Labour Organization?

  3. Which initiatives does the Commission take to put the improvement of worldwide labour conditions and social standards on the international agenda, including that of the WTO?


  1. The Commission would like to highlight that the EU strongly supports the worldwide ratification and application of the eight international core labour standards1. Combating child labour is both covered by Conventions 138 and 182 and by the 1998 International Labour Organisation (ILO) Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. The 1998 Declaration is binding for all ILO Members. However, its follow-up mechanism is not of the same legal nature as the supervision of ratified Conventions.

    The Commission hopes that India will soon ratify Conventions 138 and 182 and that it will strengthen its domestic legislation and enforcement at all relevant levels. The Indian authorities are responsible for ensuring effective legal protection and for developing and supporting concrete initiatives and programmes aimed at addressing the decent work deficit. The objective of the promotion of decent work for all is part of the international commitments and India is part of these2. The Decent Work Agenda also includes health and safety at work. The Commission encourages multinational and other companies to contribute to the objective of decent work in a complementary way to legislation, collective bargaining and enforcement.

  2. The Indian authorities are primarily responsible for the application and enforcement of labour legislation. The complementary role of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is in line with both the policy of the Commission3, the proposals by the World Commission of the Social Dimension of Globalisation and the ILO. The Commission encourages the business community to contribute to sustainable development and to strengthening the social dimension of globalisation4. The Commission notes that the 2005 project report submitted by the Venkatarangaiya (MV) Foundation on the issue of child labour in the Indian Cotton seed sector refers to dialogue and contacts with the relevant multinational companies5. The Commission encourages the relevant local and international civil society organisations and companies concerned to continue their dialogue with a view to promote decent work.

  3. The Commission is convinced that a stronger commitment to productive employment and decent work, including core labour standards, will contribute towards successfully combating poverty and promoting sustainable development. The Commission has already proposed, in the past, to discuss employment and social issues in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and to strengthen cooperation between the ILO and WTO. The Commission has included employment and social issues in its 2004 submission to the trade policy review mechanism (TPRM). The Commission hopes that other countries will do the same.

    The Commission has proposed to include the promotion of productive employment and decent work and the strengthening of the social dimension of globalisation in the EU commitments towards accelerating progress towards attaining the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), in the outcome document of the United Nations (UN) September 2005 Summit and in the proposal for a joint declaration by the Council, the Parliament and the Commission on the EU development policy6. The Council as well as the Parliament have welcomed these proposals.

    The Commission is preparing a Communication on decent work that is included in its 2006 work programme.

    In the context of the India-EU strategic partnership, the EU and India agreed, in September 2005, on a Joint Action Plan. This includes strengthening of the policy dialogue and cooperation in a number of areas, including on employment and social policy. The jointly agreed text7 states in particular: "India and the EU are committed to promote full, freely chosen and productive employment with full respect for fundamental principles, fair wages and rights at work". This cooperation is a first step towards the development of a wider policy dialogue and cooperation on these issues.

  1. COM (2001)416 final; COM (2004)383 final; Council conclusions of 21 July 2001 and 3 March 2005.
  2. UN Summit, September 2005, § 47 of the Final Declaration; ILO Decent Work Agenda as approved by the ILO Governing Body (GB) and the International labour Conference (ILC). India is part of both the ILC and the ILO GB.
  3. COM (2002)347 final; Report of the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalisation, ILO, February 2004.
  4. COM (2004) 383 final, COM (2002) 347 final.
  6. COM (2005) 134 final; COM (2005) 311 final; COM (2005) 259 final; Council conclusions of 24 May 2005 and of 22 November 2005.
  7. "Employment and social policies are core issues within the EU and the Government of India has put them at the heart of its policy approach. India and the EU are committed to promote full, freely chosen and productive employment with full respect for fundamental principles, fair wages and rights at work. India and the EU share a common interest to develop a policy dialogue on employment and social security to share experience, periodic exchange of views and information on:
    * Labour and employment issues, including on employment policies, restructuring, the global employment opportunities and requirements for trained manpower;
    * Human resource management in particular through training and skills development;
    * Social security.”