Syngenta pesticides endanger farmers and plantation workers
Swiss chemical company Syngenta, one of the world’s biggest agribusiness companies, markets highly harmful pesticides in India. After Bayer, Syngenta is the second biggest pesticides firm in the Indian market. Gramoxone, one of the products Syngenta sells in India, contains the active ingredient Paraquat which is highly toxic and can lead to death if inhaled.
Paraquat was banned in the European Union in 2007, and in the USA Gramoxone must include the warning “fatal in inhaled”. But this warning is not included on the product sold in India, which states only “fatal if swallowed”. This was uncovered in research for the Monitoring Report submitted by ECCHR in October 2015 to the Panel of Experts on Pesticides Management at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
ECCHR’s research showed that the packaging of the Syngenta pesticides Gramoxone (Paraquat) and Matador (Lambda-Cyhalothrin) does not adequately explain the potential dangers of the products or appropriate protective measures. Labels on both products are in Hindi and English only, with the result that most people in Punjab cannot understand them. Despite the high toxicity of Gramoxone, there is no indication of the protective equipment needed for its use. Neither of these Syngenta pesticides includes warnings against using the containers for other purposes or information on correct disposal methods.
ECCHR research: Syngenta pesticide Paraquat endangers plantation workers in Indonesia and the Philippines
In April 2016, ECCHR, the Pesticide Action Network Asia Pacific (PAN AP), and the Berne Declaration (BD) presented Syngenta with the results of a survey of plantation workers on the effects of Gramoxone (active ingredient Paraquat) on the health of workers on two plantations in Indonesia and another in the Philippines.
The submission documents interviews conducted with 39 workers in both countries and compares the results with Syngenta’s recommendations on the use of its products.
Pesticide use with no protective clothing or medical care
The research by ECCHR and PAN AP shows that Syngenta’s Gramoxone (active ingredient: Paraquat) – which is banned in many countries including throughout the EU – is used on plantations in Indonesia and the Philippines with almost no protective measures. This was made clear in interviews with plantation workers. Neither Syngenta nor the plantation owners provide protective equipment suitable for the climate in these countries. There is very limited access to adequate medical care. Scientific studies have identified several serious health problems and long term harm linked to the use of Paraquat.
Syngenta must be aware of the conditions in Indonesia and the Philippines. But according to a response sent to ECCHR, the Swiss company has no plans to change how Paraquat/Gramoxone is sold. Syngenta merely referred to general training measures and promised to carry out its own follow-up research but has to date refused to make the results of this research available to ECCHR. Syngenta also maintains what it calls its “safe use” position, under which a pesticide causes no harm when used correctly. This approach disregards the actual conditions on the plantations in question.
ECCHR and its partner organizations will monitor the situation in the plantations and will work to bring about better protective measures to avoid potential health damage. If the companies cannot implement these measures, they must end the sale of the highly hazardous substances in the regions in question, as set out in Article 5 of the International Code of Conduct (FAO/WHO).
Pesticide sales abroad: Syngenta in breach of due diligence obligations
Together with the Berne Declaration, ECCHR examined the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to determine whether Syngenta’s business practices comply with the human rights due diligence obligations of transnational corporations.
The two organizations concluded that Syngenta is in serious breach of its obligation to respect the human rights of consumers and third parties for several reasons.
Syngenta’s “Health, Safety and Environment Policy” is not sufficient to meet the requirements of the UN Guidelines and is not an effective means of implementing the company’s due diligence obligations.