Responding department: Human Rights
Stock exchange symbol: (MON:US)
Does your company have a publicly available commitment to respect human rights?
In April of 2006, Monsanto’s Board of Directors adopted our Human Rights Policy, which is available on our website at [link]. Our Human Rights Policy is guided by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which provides the most widely recognized definition of human rights, and the International Labor Organization’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. Monsanto’s policy addresses circumstances unique to farming and the agricultural industry, including seasonal production. We believe we have an important responsibility to hold ourselves accountable and demonstrate our commitment to human rights as we conduct our business globally. In addition, Monsanto has a Code of Business Conduct to help employees recognize and deal with a broad range of integrity issues. The Code provides guidance on such topics as: respect for each other, the environment, health and safety, proper stewardship of our products, research methodology questions, use of company resources, and accurate communication about our finances and products. It also addresses the many legal and ethical facets of integrity in business dealings with customers, suppliers, investors, the public, governments that regulate us and the communities where we do business. Our Code gives employees several ways to raise questions or concerns about integrity. The Code is available here: [link]. A third aspect of our commitment specifically relates to our suppliers. As we endeavor to lead responsibly, we are committed to integrity when selecting and doing business with our supplier base. We expect to do business with suppliers that have similar commitments. The Supplier Code of Conduct ([link]) is intended to apply broadly to suppliers that provide products or services to Monsanto and its subsidiaries and affiliates around the globe.
How are human rights governed in your company?
As mentioned, our Human Rights Policy was adopted by our Board of Directors. The Board Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility Committee provides oversight and annually receives an update on our progress on implementing the policy. Our implementation group is situated in the Office of Law and Policy which also has responsibility for Employment, Immigration and Regulatory Law; Business Conduct, Anticorruption and International Trade Compliance; and International Governmental Organizations and the concomitant programs and treaties thereunder. Our organizational philosophy is to embed the policy implementation work into the existing organizations around the world in such a way that human rights considerations are part of the strategic planning and decision matrix. We do this through a network of Human Rights Champions, who are responsible for all aspects of policy implementation in their covered geography. We also operate a Steering Committee of mid to senior level managers responsible for various functions in the company that touch human rights. This committee helps us garner new resources when needed, and ensures our actions to implement the policy are consistent with other company priorities.
How are human rights managed within your company?
We believe that the nature of our business is that the biggest human rights risks lie with our use of temporary seasonal labor in the production of seeds. The cornerstone of our approach to managing human rights is our global risk assessment, which helps us focus and prioritize our work by evaluating the countries where we have field operations. Every three years, we look at a variety of factors in each country to assess the potential risk to human rights in that country. Considerations range from the existence and enforcement of laws, access to justice, and corruption problems to our own operational models. According to a formula which weights the various considerations, we rank the countries for risk. The highest risk countries are where we focus our efforts and resources; however, all countries and business partners receive a baseline level of effort and support. We communicate our policy and expectations to our business partners in all countries, and our contracts include appropriate language based on the applicable laws. In our higher risk countries, we use our global risk assessment results to guide our priorities, and institute additional measures. For example, in India our assessment indicates that child labor is a significant risk in agriculture. We have a monitoring system in response to this risk, which ensures that each of our growers’ fields is inspected at least twice during the season by trained auditors. If children are found, they are removed from the field, and we follow up to make sure they are attending school and do not return to the field. In other countries, based on a wage and hour assessment we may change our payment practices to growers to make sure they can make timely payroll payments to their workers. If we find a problem in our grower network, we work to expeditiously institute corrective actions and continuously improve performance. We have several computer based training modules on human rights that cover our policy for our employees. Some of them are for targeted groups of employees, for example company new-hires or field activity supervisors. Others have been required for all employees. Grower training sessions are organized by field production staff in-country with priority given to high risk countries. We have tracked our human rights work with a database of our global business partners. As we have continued to evolve our program, we realized that we needed to evolve our database, and we are currently in the process of upgrading the system with new functionality to help us track corrective and preventive actions globally, and include all types of field operations, beyond just seed manufacturing growers.
What is the company’s approach to the engagement of stakeholders (including workers, and local communities impacted by the company’s activities), on human rights issues?
The company forms and participates in Community Advisory Panels in many of the locales where it has operations around the world. These are formed to ensure an open dialogue with the community on issues. We also participate with investors and NGOs in dialogues on various topics related to human rights. In India, we have formed a Child Care Program Steering Committee, with our competitor Syngenta and several NGOs, including Davuluri Venkateswarlu, of Glocal Research, a noted expert on child labor in agriculture in India. This group meets monthly to oversee our child labor monitoring program and responses, and suggest improvements in the monitoring and other prevention activities that we undertake to improve compliance with our policy of no child labor in the fields of our growers. Some group members run “bridge” schools, accelerated programs, sometimes live-in, for children who have worked in the fields so that they can catch up with their age group on their education.
Priority human rights issues: What are some of the priority human rights issues for your company?
The company selected the following from a check list:
- Health (including environmental health, workplace health & safety)
- Workplace diversity / non-discrimination
- Forced labour and human trafficking (including in supply chains)
- Sexual harassment
- Access to water
- Freedom of association and trade union rights
- Children (including child labour)
- Migrant workers
Actions on 'other' issues
Under "Other issues", Compensation and Working Hours are part of our Policy concerns. In our response to Question 3, we described some of our work in India on child labor. We also have major safety initiatives in India including training for our growers and communities on two and four wheeler driving, field hazards, personal protective equipment, and a snake anti-venom supply program for treatment of workers or community members who are bitten by poisonous snakes.
Another example is our site labor audit in the U.S. In 2014 we visited each of 10 corn seed manufacturing locations and audited their seasonal labor practices including compliance with the disclosure requirement of the Migrant Seasonal Protection Act, pay practice communication, working and transportation time tracking, and payroll details. Each site received recommendations as a result of the audit and we plan to conduct another audit in 2015, expanding the scope.
A third example is our commitment to the WBCSD (World Business Council on Sustainable Development) advocacy that all people should have access to adequate drinking water. Monsanto is the first agriculture company to sign the WBCSD WASH Pledge. Access to water and sanitation is a fundamental human right and essential to life and health, which is the essence of the WASH campaign. We have committed to providing all our employees in all locations under company control with access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene. These are just a few examples of the many processes in place, depending on the risks, the business model and the country culture, to implement our human rights policy around the world.
How are human rights commitments and information about how the company addresses its human rights impacts communicated, internally and externally?
Internal training was mentioned in our response to Question 3 (What training is conducted for staff and business partners?); however, in addition to the computer-based and in-person trainings mentioned there, we have instituted a Human Rights Awareness event for our remote sites in production and technology in the last year. We train one person from each site to spend about an hour covering human rights topics with the entire site. In 2014, the first year we did this on a global basis, we reached over 8600 people in our technology organization, and 11,200 in our production organization, with this approach.
Our external reporting is via our Sustainability Report, and our UN Global Compact Communication on Progress. We have reported under GRI for the past two years, and have adopted the GRI 4.0 convention for our upcoming report on our fiscal year 2014.
What provisions does your company have in place to ensure that grievances from workers and affected communities or individuals are heard, and can you provide examples of remedies provided?
Our Business Conduct Office operates a global hotline to enable employees, contract workers or private individuals to report their concerns about our operations, practices or violations of our Human Rights Policy, Code of Business Conduct or other corporate obligations in their own language, either anonymously or by name. Each and every concern is reviewed, assigned to a knowledgeable individual for handling – including investigation and remediation when warranted-- and a response is provided to each concern.
Seasonal, temporary, or business partners’ workers may have various mechanisms to report their concerns to us including:
- The Business Conduct Office hotline
- The “Contact Us” system on our Monsanto.com website
- Through a union representative
- Through an elected representative where there is no union in existence
- Through a 3rd party-provided mobile phone system, specific to the seasonal workforce
- Through an employee, sometimes a human rights champion.
The concerns we receive are investigated as promptly and thoroughly as possible and corrective actions are put in place where a violation is discovered.
Which external and collaborative human rights initiatives does your company participate in, and what is the nature of your involvement?
We have been active participants in the UN Global Compact Human Rights Working Group, and BSR’s Human Rights Working Group, which is a group of human rights practitioners from various companies in various industries, who compare and discuss common concerns and our programs. In 2013, we joined the World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and in 2014 we announced a commitment to their WASH initiative on Water, Sanitation and Health (see Question 5 answer for additional information on this).
Which are the key one, two or three elements of your approach to human rights that been developed or amended since June 2011? Please indicate if these actions were in response to the UN Guiding Principles.
Our human rights processes continue to evolve as we gain experience and exposure to what other industries are doing. The seasonal nature of our workforce, and the tendency for agricultural workers to come from the most marginalized populations, present challenges that some other industries don’t have. We continue to try to evolve our processes to address the challenges we find, with the goal of continuous improvement. In response to the Guiding Principles that were ratified in June 2011, one of our activities has been to more fully explore the opportunity for seasonal temporary workers around the globe, who work for us or for our business partner growers, to communicate their concerns directly to the company. In addition, we have worked to expand the scope of our efforts internally, to cover more functions and organizations, and are working to add more structure and documentation to our processes.
What are some of the obstacles and challenges that your company encounters in implementing its human rights commitments?
The structure of the agriculture industry in many countries provides challenges and barriers to implementing human rights commitments. Governments could be more effective in enacting and consistently enforcing laws protecting their people, and that would contribute to better lives for all rights-holders. They must be consistent in their enforcement as between multi-national and national companies to avoid confusion and foster better compliance.