Child labour in India in cotton seed tackled by MNC’s Bayer and Monsanto but issue is far from solved

Multinational companies Bayer and Monsanto have, under a combination of local and international pressur,e began to tackle the issue of child labour in their cotton seed supply chain in India. However, both companies are still unprepared to tackle the issue in other states in which they are expanding their production.

This is the conclusion of the report, titled “Seeds of Change”, published today. The author Dr. Davuluri Venkateswarlu assesses the follow-up by the two companies on commitments to a joint action plan. The report is released in advance of World Day Against Child Labor taking place on June 12.

Only partial success
While both companies are claiming success, there still remains a lot to be done to eliminate child labor in their supply chains. As original research based on farm visits proves, the number of children working in this sector has declined since the action plan was initiated, but has not been eliminated. The decline was only in Andhra Pradesh. However in states like Karnataka, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, where Bayer and Monsanto are substantially increasing their seed sourcing of seed, they did not start to deal with the problem yet. Also there are no efforts to implement a no-child labour policy through joint-venture partners, suppliers and sub-licensees.

Additionally, the companies’ investments in education have not been making the necessary impact on the ground. The Creative Learning Centers which Monsanto and Bayer helped to fund have not been able to reach the constituency they are meant to serve: children who formerly worked on cotton farms.

Gerard Oonk, director of the India Committee of the India Committee (ICN) comments: ‘An important reason for Bayer’s and Monsanto’s unsuccessful education programmes is the fact that they are lacking community mobilization efforts. This stands in contrast to the approach of the most reputed NGO working on child labour and education in Andhra Pradesh: the MV Foundation. MV Foundation has been getting more than 400.000 children out of work and into regular schools in 6.000 villages in the state.”

Low prices as an obstacle
Monsanto and Bayer have also, despite giving a limited price incentive for farmers working without child labour, failed to address the issue of a fair procurement price for farmers. This is an important factor in the continuation of cheap child labor. According to an earlier report from 2005 (‘The Price of Childhood’) farmers should be paid almost 40% more by the seed companies to enable them to hire adults against official minimum wages.

Another important concern revealed by the study is that Bayer has not been very transparent in sharing data from their field visits and follow-up research. While Monsanto has disclosed most information from these monitoring activities, Bayer has stalled on release of information.
Bama Athreya, Executive Director of the International Labor Rights Forum, said, “As we recognize World Day Against Child Labor, it is essential that we increase pressure on multinational corporations to stop this illegal practice. While Monsanto and Bayer have made some progress in ending child labor on India’s cottonseed farms, there is still a long way to go.”

Dr. Venkateswarlu writes in his report, “A responsible company must have a policy regarding child labor (and other labor rights) for all its locations and operations as a matter of principle and as a matter of consistency with its own code of conduct or corporate responsibility policy.”

The organizations that commissioned the report will continue to monitor child labor in the cotton seed industry and pressure companies and international organizations to act.

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