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18 Sep 2020

OECD complaint filed by Indian families alleging poisoning by Syngenta pesticides highlights larger issue of European companies using loopholes to export banned pesticides

In 2020, 51 families filed a specific complaint at the Swiss OECD National Contact Point (NCP) alleging poisoning by Syngenta's Polo in the Indian region of Yavatmal. The case was supported by Pesticide Action Network (Pan India), the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and Public Eye. In 2017, police recorded 96 cases of poisoning linked to Syngenta's pesticide, two of which led to fatalities. Survivors report they suffered severe symptoms after spraying, such as temporary blindness, unconsciousness, nausea, and breathing difficulties, among others.

In December 2020, the NCP accepted the complaint and four mediation meetings were held in 2021. However in June 2022, the process ended with no agreement or remedy for the Indian farmers because the company said it could not discuss whether Polo had caused the poisonings due to ongoing judicial proceedings before a Swiss civil court. In a separate case, a survivor of poisoning and two women whose husbands died had filed a lawsuit against Syngenta in a civil court in Basel. More information on the ongoing lawsuit is available here.

The NCP's decision was heavily criticised by the supporting NGOs and the UN Special Rapporteur on Toxics and Human Rights, who said "The group of 51 farmers and their families should not be deprived of their right to access remedy through a non-judicial process simply because another group of victims chose to file a civil lawsuit."

This case is also part of a greater problem: a 2020 report released by Unearthed and Public Eye alleges European companies routinely use loopholes in EU legislation to export banned pesticides abroad. Among the exported chemicals are those which have been banned by EU regulatory authorities for the health hazards they cause such as reproductive failure, endocrine disruption, or cancer.