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October 4, 2004

Multinational and Indian companies still profit from bonded child labour on cottonseed farms in India

An estimated 12,375 children are still working in horrendous conditions on cottonseed farms in the state of Andhra Pradesh (India) producing for the multinational corporations (MNC's) Advanta (Dutch), Bayer (German), Emergent Genetics (US, with an investment from Unilever) and Monsanto (US). In addition more than 70.000 children are working for Indian seed companies under similar circumstances. Children are working long hours, do not go to school and are often bonded to the employers by loans. A number of children have died or became seriously ill due to exposure to pesticide. Promises by companies made last year to eradicate child labour in the sector have not translated into solid actions.

These are some major findings of the report "Child Labor in Hybrid Cottonseed Production in Andhra Pradesh: Recent Developments"1, which is released today by the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN), in co-operation with its partners in Europe2 and India, and the International Labor Rights Fund (USA).
A second report released today on child labour and labour conditions in cottonseed production in the states of Gujarat and Karnataka, provides evidence that another 117,800 children under 15 are also working under dismal circumstances for multinational and Indian companies. Many more young workers (15-18) and adults, often tribal migrant workers, are badly exploited as well. Both children and adults work 12 to 14 hours a day and earn between 15 and 35 rupees (€1 = Rs. 64).

The report on Andhra Pradesh is a follow up of an earlier report publish in May 2003 which revealed that in the beginning of 2002 an estimated 53.500 children were working on farms producing for multinationals and almost 200.000 for Indian companies. At that time children accounted for 90% of the total labour force in cottonseed production, which has now declined to almost 60%. The decrease in children working for multinationals from 53.500 to 12.375 is however mainly due to a decline in less cottonseed cultivation in the state as a result of the drought.

Broken promises
acknowledged the pervasive problem of child labour on farms which are contracted by their agents, called seed organisers. In September 2003 these companies, represented by the Association of Seed Industry (ASI), decided to work towards the eradication of child labour in collaboration with other stakeholders. They agreed to work with the MV Foundation (MVF), a reputed NGO3, but have thus far not lived up to their promises. For example, only after a public outcry because of the 'pesticide death' of a working child in July 2004, three companies finally shared the list of villages and seed organisers with MVF in order to facilitate the agreed (joint) monitoring of farmers. According to the report the delaying tactics of the companies within ASI prevented the companies from making a significant positive impact on the child labour situation in 2003.

Statement MV Foundation
In a separate statement Shantha Sinha, General Secretary of MVF, points out that they have been able to convince and pressure many small and big local farmers to free children working for them and even sponsor their education. However, Sinha says, the farmers working for big national and international seed companies as well as the children they employ are unfortunately 'locked in a unequal partnership under contractual relationship with a powerful industry... It has proven time and again beyond doubt that the powerful global players who claim to uphold themselves to their codes of conduct and corporate social responsibility have flouted all norms of human rights and values." According to the Andhra Pradesh report the companies have thus far refused to address the issue of low procurement prices paid to farmers which have led them to use cheap bonded child labour.

The International Labor Rights Fund, the India Committee of the Netherlands, FNV Mondiaal, Amnesty International Netherlands, Novib/Oxfam Netherlands, Germanwatch, Coalition against Bayer-dangers, Global March Germany and German Agro-Action demand that all cottonseed companies, and in particular the multinational companies:

  1. Immediately implement a plan of action to eliminate all child labour in the cottonseed industry in India and ensure that every child goes to school. This should be done in close co-operation with civil society organisations and government authorities. In Andhra Pradesh, the present co-operation with the MV Foundation should be intensified in order to reach the objective that no child should work in cottonseed production in the new 2005 season.
  2. Pay fair procurement prices to farmers to allow them to hire adult labourers and pay them at least the official minimum wage as well as equal wages for both men and women.
  3. Eliminate all forms of bonded labour in cottonseed production in India.
  4. Respect the workers' right to freedom of association and collective bargaining.
  5. Provide training to farmers and seed organisers on safe handling of pesticides, and provide protective gear and clothing for pesticides handling.
  6. Provide public, independently verified, evidence on the implementation on the above demands.

Rapport 'Child Labour in Hybrid Cottonseed Production in Andhra Pradesh: Recent Developments':

Rapport 'Child Labour in Hybrid Cottonseed Production in Gujarat and Karnataka':

Verklaring van de MV Foundation:

More information:
Gerard Oonk, co-ordinator India Committee of the Netherlands
tel. 00-31-30-2321340  e-mail:

1 Some more facts from the 'Andhra Pradesh report':
In the 2003-04 season, an estimated number of 84,000 children worked on cottonseed farms in Andhra Pradesh, India, out of which 4.950 children for Emergent Genetics (whose daughter Paras Extra Seeds Growth is for 26% owned by Hindustan Lever, a subsidiary of Unilever), 4,400 for Monsanto,1.650 for Proagro (Bayer) and 1.375 for Advanta. The rest worked for Indian companies. Syngenta had no production in Andhra Pradesh in 2003.
Seventy percent of the child labourers are in debt bondage employed on a long-term contract through loans and advances to their parents. Some are trafficked from nearby villages and are made to live in poorly ventilated labour camps (huts) provided by the farmers. Children work 9-10 hours in a day in normal season and 11-13 hours during peak seasons directly exposed to pesticides and extreme weather conditions. In June 2004 alone, there were reported three deaths of children, 8, 12 and 13 years old, from pesticide poisoning on the cottonseed farms.

2 Co-operating Partners
In the Netherlands the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN) co-operates closely on this issue with Amnesty International Netherlands, FNV Mondiaal and Novib/Oxfam Netherlands. In Germany it co-operates with the Coalition against Bayer-dangers, Germanwatch and the Global March Against Child Labour Germany.

3 MV Foundation
MVF has a long and very successful experience in mobilising communities against child labour and preparing working children to enter full-time education. During the last thirteen years more than 250.000 children have thus been withdrawn from work and entered, often via bridging camps and special classes for older children, entered full-time schools. The MV Foundation's view that 'no child should work and every child should be in full-time education' is now also the official policy of the government of Andhra Pradesh.

MV Foundation, together with the campaign 'Stop Child Labour - School is the best place to work', organises the international conference 'Out of Work into School - Children's Right to Education as a Non-Negotiable' between 2 and 5 November 2004 in Hyderabad, India. You are invited to request more information on this conference.
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India Committee of the Netherlands / Landelijke India Werkgroep - October 4, 2004