India: FAO/WHO monitoring mechanism failed to address mismanagement of pesticides by co's, says civil society

A Monitoring Report submitted by ECCHR to the Panel of Experts on Pesticides Management at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations alleges that Bayer and Syngenta are involved in the sale of highly hazardous pesticides but fail to adequately inform the farmers about the dangers of the pesticides or the necessary safety measures. The report, based on numerous accounts from Punjabi farmers shows that the business practices of these transnational chemicals giants violate the FAO Code of Conduct. Syngenta issued a statement saying it will investigate the accuracy of these claims and will take appropriate action. Bayer issued a statement saying it undertakes all efforts to supplement the information given on the labels with appropriate educational materials and strictly adhere to the label and leaflet regulations. 

The ECCHR and a coalition of organisations including Berne Declaration, Kheti Virasat Mission, Pesticides Action Network – Asia Pacific and Bread for the World, have since issued public replies in criticism of Syngenta's and Bayer's statements, along with further video material relating to the allegations in India. The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited Syngenta and Bayer to respond. Their individual answers are available below.

The monitoring report was assessed at the FAO/WHO Joint Meeting on Pesticide Management (JMPM), held in New Dehli from 10 to 13 April 2017. In November 2017, the FAO/WHO published its recommendations. While the JMPM said it encouraged the use of a multi-stakeholder dialogue to improve pesticide risk reduction in India, it did not present any concrete recommendations on how to improve the shortcomings identified in the report and failed to assess corporate adherence to the International Code of Conduct on Pesticide Mangement. The report is available below. ECCHR, along with several civil society organisations, in an open letter on 21 November 2017 criticised the lack of effectiveness of the monitoring mechanism and urged the FAO/WHO to implement changes to effectively address the widespread mismanagement of pesticides worldwide. On 21 April 2018, the FAO replied saying that they have noted the expressed concerns but that the JMPM is merely an expert panel providing guidance on pesticide management and have no enforcement powers for compliance with the Code or associated policy guidelines. Both letters are available below.

Carolijn Terwindt and Christian Schliemann from ECCHR have also written a blog on how the UN complaint mechanism's lack of teeth on pesticides management runs the risks of rendering the UN monitoring mechanism meaningless. The blog can be read here

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Article
21 April 2018

FAO reply to open letter by NGO coalition urging it to address mismanagement of pesticide sales

Author: Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations

Thank you for your letter of 21 November 2017 regarding the effectiveness of the ad-hoc monitoring procedure of the International Code of Conduct on Pesticide Management ("the Code"). We have noted the concerns expressed in your letter which will be made available to the next meeting of the FAO/WHO Joint Meeting on Pesticide Management (JMPM) and the Secretariat and to highlight our ongoing efforts to support countries in the sound management of pesticides...

The JMPM is an expert panel providing technical advice and guidance to FAO and WHO on pesticide management. Feedback on implementation of the Code from the field can help in setting priorities for the development of technical guidelines and policy advice by the JMPM. Neither FAO, nor WHO, or the JMPM has enforcement powers for compliance of the provisions of the Code or any of the associated technical or policy guidelines...

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Article
21 November 2017

NGO coalition issues open letter urging FAO/WHO to address mismanagement of pesticide sales

Author: Public Eye, European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, Kheti Virasat Mission, Pesticides Action Network - Asia Pacific, Bread for the World

Without improvements FAO/WHO monitoring procedure on its way to becoming meaningless: Experts fail to deliver assessment of Bayer CropScience and Syngenta compliance with the International Code of Conduct on Pesticide Management...

The International Code of Conduct on Pesticide Management (“the Code”) is the only global instrument for the management of pesticides... The JMPM, however, failed to assess the companies compliance with the Code. Specific recommendations for business behavior are entirely missing... Without improvements, the FAO/WHO monitoring procedure is on its way to becoming meaningless... This report [...] could have served as a benchmark for future scrutiny of business practices... The JMPM rightly recommends an evaluation of the ad-hoc monitoring procedure. To be effective, the procedure should: [...]

Provide an official assessment of state and business compliance with the Code...

Identify the responsibility of home states of pesticides companies in fulfillment of their extraterritorial human rights obligations to monitor conduct of business actors abroad...

The signatories call on the JMPM to publicly respond to this open letter clarify what its powers and capabilities are and how it plans to implement the necessary changes to effectively address the widespread mismanagement of pesticides.

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Article
17 November 2017

FAO/WHO recommendations fail to assess corporate adherence to Code of Conduct on pesticides management

Author: World Health Organisation, Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations

The report draws attention to issues related to the distribution and use of six pesticides from Bayer and Syngenta... The report addresses two main aspects of (non-)adherence and relates to the following articles of the Code of Conduct:

(i) the labeling of pesticides [...]; and

(ii) training and protective personal equipment...  

In addition, the report draws attention to companies’ efforts to take corrective action [...] and illustrates the importance of collaboration between government and industry for monitoring pesticide use and the health and environmental effects...

The JMPM makes the following response: [...]

The JMPM supports the stakeholders’ talking and working together to promote practices that minimize pesticide risks.

Pesticide risk reduction is a complex issue, and a multi-stakeholder approach can move it forward. Feedback should be encouraged to identify areas requiring attention. Multi-stakeholder dialogue may help further improve pesticide risk reduction in India.

The JMPM encourages further monitoring of the implementation of the Code of Conduct.

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Company response
27 June 2017

Syngenta's response

Author: Syngenta

As mentioned in our original response to the authors of the report [...] Syngenta complies with the applicable national and international legislation and codes of practice that govern the crop protection industry in India... [I]n November 2015 Syngenta facilitated a workshop with academia, CSOs and other stakeholders on this specific issue... An important activity emerging from the workshop was the creation of a working group tasked to look at how to improve training protocols and align training content in order to have higher impact... Syngenta has also launched a renewed safe use train-the-trainer program with our Indian sales capability team... The training has a specific focus on the FAO/WHO Code of Conduct and behaviour change among farmers with regard to safety... We are convinced that through a continued dialogue involving the relevant authorities in India as well as the FAO, we can jointly derive solutions that recognize the needs and reality of the farming community in India.

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Company response
26 June 2017

Bayer's response

Author: Bayer

Bayer is committed to stringent standards and the responsible use of its crop protection products and continuously promotes the highest stewardship standards in agriculture across the country... We have written two letters to the authors of the report [...] and subsequently met with the authors in person on 23rd May 2016. Additionally, Bayer provided two response letters to FAO (13th January, 2016 and 24th March, 2017), both addressing Bayer's position and on-going efforts on product stewardship and training in India... Bayer's Crop Science division in India continues to adhere to national and international best practices in the area of crop protection product management... We are convinced that through a continued multi stakeholder dialogue involving the relevant authorities in India as well as the FAO, we can jointly derive a perspective on the way forward that recognizes the needs and reality of the farming community in the state of Punjab and India as a whole.

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Article
7 April 2017

Press release: UN to assess Bayer & Syngenta’s adherence to international standard on pesticides management

Author: European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, Berne Declaration, Kheti Virasat Mission, Pesticides Action Network – Asia Pacific, Bread for the World

Organizations from Europe and Asia submitted a complaint to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in October 2015 on the marketing of hazardous pesticides by Bayer and Syngenta in Punjab/India... A video containing farmers’ testimonies was submitted as additional evidence to the FAO and is only released today... The FAO will assess companies’ adherence to the Code of Conduct on Pesticide Management during its annual meeting of the Panel of Experts in New Delhi from 10th to 13th of April and invited the coalition to present its view... [W]e urge the FAO Panel of Experts to recommend: 

to Bayer CropScience and Syngenta to withdraw all pesticide products with inadequate labels from the Punjabi market...

To the Government of India to prohibit the importation, distribution, sale and purchase of highly hazardous pesticides and to enforce its national legislation...

To the governments of Germany and Switzerland to collect and record data on export of pesticides...

To all stakeholders to organize concrete remedial measures for the dire health and environmental situation faced by farmers in Punjab...

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Item
25 November 2015

Response to Bayer

Author: European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, Berne Declaration, Kheti Virasat Mission, Pesticides Action Network – Asia Pacific, Bread for the World

In reference to Bayer's response, dated October 17th 2015, to the Ad-Hoc Monitoring Report [...] we wish to discuss further the following points and request related information. The first issue we wish to address is that of label and leaflet requirements and the assertion in the response letter that Bayer CropScience India adheres to national and international best practices... Secondly, we wish to address the assertions in the response letter that regular farmer training and awareness programs are held... A further area that was covered extensively in the report but not mentioned in the response letter is that of monitoring... We look forward to hearing back from you [...] in the hope of building a constructive discussion on the reality of the situation faced by the farming community in Punjab... It is on the basis of specific information only that any multi-stakeholder meeting can actually address the problems as they are on the ground and develop appropriate solutions.

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Item
24 November 2015

Response to Syngenta

Author: European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, Berne Declaration, Kheti Virasat Mission, Pesticides Action Network – Asia Pacific, Bread for the World

In reference to Syngenta’s response, dated October 9th 2015, to the Ad-Hoc Monitoring Report [...] we wish to make the following comments... Syngenta states that they comply with local legislation... However, [...] the main focus of our report is compliance with the FAO/WHO Code of Conduct on Pesticide Management. It is evident that in order for Syngenta to fulfill its responsibilities with regard to human rights as well as to comply with the Code of Conduct, complying with national law is often insufficient... Syngenta’s worker safety program ignores the most effective methods for improving safety. It appears that the company does not want to reduce its pesticide sales, nor does it want to replace its highly hazardous pesticides... We welcome Syngenta's intention to take appropriate action to meet its commitments; however verification of appropriate action can only occur with transparency. We therefore urge Syngenta to publicly provide information on which topics, and by when, action will be taken and to publicly communicate the resolution of the reported shortcomings.

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Company response
17 October 2015

Bayer CropScience's position on FAO Monitoring Report

Author: Bayer CropScience

We are fully committed to Product Stewardship as an integral part of our activities. In line with Chemical Industry’s principles of Sus- tainable Development and Responsible Care, Bayer CropScience endorses the international FAO Code of Conduct on the distribution and use of crop protection products and has taken it as the basis of its Product Stewardship programs...As manufacturer, we strictly adhere to the label and leaflet regula- tions. These are written in a language understood in the country concerned and supported by the internationally recognized pictograms recommended by the FAO.

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Company response
13 October 2015

CropLife India's position on Ad Hoc Monitoring Report

Author: Crop Life India

CropLife India continues its strong support of nationally and internationally-accepted best practices in the area of crop protection product management...Along with our member companies, CropLife India regularly conducts farmer training and awareness programmes across the country on the importance of identifying and purchasing authentic crop protection products, safe transportation, responsible use and secure storage of crop protection products (including following label instructions), the use of personal protection equipment, and first aid. ..CropLife India would like to reiterate its strong support of and commitment to comply with internationally-accepted best practices and India national regulations in the area of crop protection product management. 

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