A well-researched Dutch report, which has sharply criticized Gujarat and Rajasthan governments for failing to take any steps against child labour in Bt cotton farms, has surprisingly praised multinational corporations (MNCs), including the controversial Monsanto, for taking “exemplary” initiatives in fighting the evil. It has said, efforts by “Bayer, Monsanto, Du Pont and few local companies have had some positive impact in reducing the number of working children.”
Giving data of of “positive impact” of MNCs, the report, titled "Cotton's Forgotten Children", authored by Dr Davuluri Venkateswarlu, says, “The proportion of child labour to the total workforce on the farms producing seeds for these companies has dropped significantly”, and in 2014-15 it has reached “less than 2 per cent.”
Approvingly quoting the data provided by Bayer and Monsanto, report,released in The Hague last week, says, “The incidence child labour in terms of proportion of children to total workers for 2014-15 is 0.014% on Bayer farms and 0.18% on Monsanto farms”.
As against this, the report says, during 2014-15, the proportion of children (below 14 years) to the total workforce on farms producing seeds by non-MNC companies, including Mahyco, which has a tieup with Monsanto, varied “between 20.4% and 28.6% in different states”.
This wasn’t achieved easily, though, the report suggests. “Since 2010, many developments have occurred which have influenced the nature and magnitude of child labour and working conditions of the labourers in the Indian seed industry. The intensified pressure from international NGOs and social investors like Norges Bank urged MNCs like Bayer, Monsanto, Syngenta and DuPont to continue their efforts to address the problem of child labour in their supply chain.”
The report points to how “the decision of Norges Bank to exclude Zuari seed company from its investment portfolio in 2013, as result of the prevalence of child labour, sent strong signals to companies about human rights concerns of social investors.”
Thanks to this, it adds, “Other companies like Namdhari, Kalash Seeds (formerly Bejo Sheetal), Advanta, Nuziveedu etc. have started interventions, though in a limited way, to address the issues of child labour in their suppliers’ farms.”
The report studied a total of 396 farms surveyed, pointing out, of these, 138 (35%) were producing seed for multinationals or its joint venture partners and the remaining 258 for local Indian companies. It says, “The names of MNCs included in the survey are Monsanto and its Indian partner Mahyco (Monsanto holds 26% share in Mahyco), Bayer, Advanta (owned by United Prosperous Ltd) and Xylem Seeds (subsidiary of DuPont Pioneer).”
Refusing to take a stand against the genetically modified (GM) cotton seed, despite a strong environmental lobbies led by Vandana Shiva against it, the report says, “The term ‘hybrid’ refers to a plant variety developed through specific, controlled crossing of two parent plants. Usually, the parents are naturally compatible varieties within the same species.”
Favouring this “hybridization, or the crossing of compatible varieties”, the report says, this happens “naturally in the wild; plant breeders basically just steer the process to control the outcome.” It adds, “Unlike hybrids, which are developed in the field using natural, low-tech methods, GM varieties are created in a lab using highly complex technology, such as gene splicing.”
The report further says, “These high-tech GM varieties can include genes from several species — a phenomenon that almost never occurs in nature. The Bt technology developed by Monsanto includes genetic material from the bacterium Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), which kills bollworm pest.”
Pointing out that this hybrid technology was introduced in cotton in 1970s in India, the report says, “In early 2000s Bt technology was incorporated in existing cotton hybrids. Whether it is traditional hybrid or Bt hybrid the process used for multiplication of seed (emasculation and pollination) is same.”
“The area under Bt cotton hybrids, has seen a significant increase in recent years. Bt cotton was officially introduced in India in 2002-03. Beginning with 93,992 acres in 2002-03, the area under Bt cotton hybrids increased to nearly 31 million acres covering about 94% of the total cotton area in 2013-14”, the report says.
The production area controlled by Monsanto, Bayer, DuPont, Advanta, Mahyco (Monsanto partner) increased almost four times from 7,680 acres in 2006-07 to 30,000 acres in 2014-15. During the same period the share of MNCs in the total production area increased from 12.7% to 31.6%.”