OECD complaint against Bayer's agricultural model in Latin America

South America – Agro-Industry – Bayer

Six civil society and research organizations have now filed a complaint against Bayer with the German National Contact Point of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Based on extensive research and interviews with affected communities in the four countries, the complaint documents specific cases that show the negative impacts of the GM soy agribusiness model in areas where Bayer markets its products.

Since its merger with Monsanto in 2018, Bayer has become a major force in the global pesticide and seed market. In South America, home to the world’s 10 largest soybean producers, the company benefits from the steady increase in agricultural land use for soybean cultivation and earns multimillion dollar revenues from the sale of toxic glyphosate-based pesticides and the genetically modified soybean seeds that are resistant to them. Bayer's agricultural model leads to serious environmental impacts and human rights violations that affect the local populations, in particular indigenous and rural communities. Forests are cut down to make room for soy plantations, important biodiversity is lost, food supplies are threatened, drinking water is polluted, and land conflicts are intensified.

 

Español: Seis organizaciones de la sociedad civil y de investigación han presentado una denuncia contra Bayer ante el Punto Nacional de Contacto alemán de la Organización de Cooperación y Desarrollo Económicos (OCDE). Basándose en una amplia investigación y en entrevistas con comunidades afectadas en los cuatro países, la denuncia documenta casos concretos que muestran los impactos negativos del modelo agrícola de la soja transgénica en las áreas donde Bayer comercializa sus productos ampliamente.

Desde su fusión con Monsanto en 2018, Bayer se ha convertido en una fuerza importante en el mercado mundial de pesticidas y semillas. En Sudamérica, donde se encuentran los 10 mayores productores de soja a nivel mundial, la empresa se beneficia del aumento constante del uso de tierras agrícolas para el cultivo de soja y obtiene ingresos multimillonarios de la venta de pesticidas tóxicos a base de glifosato y de las semillas de soja modificadas genéticamente que son resistentes a ellos. El modelo agrícola de Bayer provoca graves impactos ambientales y violaciones de los derechos humanos que afectan a las poblaciones locales, en particular a las comunidades indígenas y campesinas. Se talan bosques para hacer sitio a la plantación de soja, se pierde una biodiversidad importante, se amenaza el suministro de alimentos, se contamina el agua potable y se intensifican los conflictos por la tierra.

[Todos los documentos pueden ser consultados en Español a continuación]

Case

In April 2024, four civil society organizations from South America, the Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS) from Argentina, Terra de Direitos from Brazil, BASE-IS from Paraguay, Fundación TIERRA from Bolivia, together with Misereor and ECCHR, filed an OECD complaint against Bayer. The allegation: by not complying with its human rights and environmental due diligence obligations in the sale of soybean seeds and toxic pesticides, Bayer is violating the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and contributing to adverse impacts in the four Latin American countries.

According to the OECD Guidelines, corporations are expected to respect internationally recognized environmental and human rights standards throughout their global value chains. These include abstaining from contributing to adverse impacts on the right to health, food, land and a healthy environment. With the complaint, the organizations are calling on Bayer to comply with its due diligence obligations to prevent and mitigate human rights violations and negative environmental impacts associated with the distribution and use of its products in the four countries. Moreover, the complainants argue that the company should provide redress in cases where it has contributed to actual adverse impacts. According to the current interpretation of the German supervisory authority, the Federal Office for Export Control (BAFA), such risks are not covered by the German Supply Chain Act. However, the OECD Guidelines do establish due diligence obligations for the downstream value chain, in particular for foreseeable negative consequences of product use.

The OECD National Contact Point has three months to decide on the admissibility of the complaint and thereby facilitate mediation between the affected parties and the company. The organizations expect Bayer to respond to the complaint and actively take part in finding solutions for the identified problems.
 

Context

South America has experienced a major boom in soy cultivation and exports in recent decades, which has developed hand in hand with a high level of corporate concentration in the industrial food system, with Bayer at the forefront. Today, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia are among the 10 largest soy producers in the world and cultivate on average more than 50% of their agricultural land with soy. The complainant organizations have been working for several years in the four countries with local communities directly affected by the agricultural model promoted by Bayer. Specific cases from the communities listed in the complaint serve as examples of systematic environmental and human rights violations in areas where Bayer markets its products.

Land is the most important resource for intensive soy cultivation in the region, leading to increasing expansion into the territories of indigenous and peasant communities and deepening socio-territorial conflicts. Apart from threatening their traditional way of life, the right to self-determination over food systems is also being restricted, while dangerous health risks and impacts are rampant throughout the region. Furthermore, soy cultivation is linked to the deforestation and degradation of some of the world's most important biomes in the region, such as the Atlantic Forest, the Gran Chaco and the Chiquitania. In this context, this agricultural model not only affects the right to a healthy environment of local communities, but also threatens the ability of natural ecosystems to adapt to climate change. 

According to the OECD-FAO Guidance for Responsible Agricultural Supply Chains and the OECD-FAO Handbook on Deforestation and Due Diligence in Agricultural Supply Chains, which are intended to guide the implementation of the OECD Guidelines in the agricultural sector, the abovementioned impacts constitute “red flags” or “high risks,” particularly in the context of soy cultivation. This means that companies operating in these areas, including Bayer, should exercise heightened due diligence to ensure that their products are not associated with actual or potential adverse impacts. Despite its dominant market position and the foreseeability of these impacts, Bayer has failed to adequately integrate these risks and adverse impacts into its due diligence processes and business activities.

In this complaint, ECCHR supports the organizations in their fight for human rights and the protection of the environment in the agribusiness sector and advocates for German companies, such as Bayer AG, to account for their actions and the negative impacts resulting from them. Since 2016, ECCHR has addressed violations in the global distribution of pesticides by supporting civil lawsuits filed by affected people in Yavatmal, central India, and by submitting an OECD complaint, together with affected people and additional civil society organizations, against the Swiss company Syngenta. In October 2016, ECCHR also filed a complaint against Bayer with the Plant Protection Service of the Chamber of Agriculture of North Rhine-Westphalia for violations of export regulations in relation to pesticide distribution in India.

Quotes

Background

The impacts of soybean industrial agriculture in the Southern Cone are widespread and have been extensively documented. Our complaint against Bayer AG includes exemplary cases of these impacts for each country:

In the city of Pergamino, in the north of Buenos Aires province, Sabrina and her family used to live in the Villa Alicia neighborhood, which is adjacent to soybean fields. In 2011, they developed serious health problems, such as miscarriages, strokes, bone cysts and respiratory problems, as a result of pesticide spraying. Medical tests indicated that both Sabrina and her children had high levels of glyphosate and its main metabolite, the aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA), in their urine. On medical advice, they had to move out of the neighborhood.

Sabrina's case is currently being heard in court. In September 2019, an injunction was issued prohibiting spraying within a radius of 1,095 meters around urban areas in Pergamino and within a radius of 3,000 meters in the case of aerial spraying. In the same year, three rural producers were charged as "prima facie" accomplices for the crime of "polluting the environment in a manner dangerous to health through the use of qualified hazardous waste (agrotoxins)." Two municipal officials from the Production Secretariat and the General Secretariat were also charged with the crime of continuously failing to fulfill the duties of a public official.

In the course of the investigation, raids were ordered on the fields where spraying took place, and evidence was found of the use of the Monsanto S.A. brand glyphosate (now Bayer).

Colonia Yeruti Ñu is located in eastern Paraguay in the district of Curuguaty, about 212 kilometers from the capital Asunción. It is a rural settlement created by the Instituto de Bienestar Rural (IBR) with a total area of 2,212 hectares, divided into 223 agricultural plots allocated to the beneficiaries of the agrarian reform, mainly small farmers, for the cultivation of food for their own consumption and to develop peasant family agriculture. At present, industrial agriculture has grown exponentially in the region and has expanded by 60% in the colony's territory, at the expense of the farming families who live there. They are condemned to live on a few hectares of land surrounded by large expanses of soy monocultures, where pesticides are constantly sprayed. In 2011, several people were hospitalized with signs of agrochemical poisoning, one of whom died. The case was reported to the UN Human Rights Committee, which issued a favorable opinion for the victims of the case.

Colonia Yvype is located in the northeastern region of Paraguay in the district of Lima, department of San Pedro, roughly 245 kilometers from the capital. This agricultural colony was also established by the IBR. Officially, the colony covers a total area of 3,889 hectares, which is divided into 190 agricultural plots of 20 hectares each. Currently, the colony is surrounded by soy monocultures run by large- and medium-sized producers engaged in agribusiness, who are forcibly evicting the inhabitants of the area, while the peasant families who oppose the advance of industrial agriculture are displaced and criminalized.

Paraná is the Brazilian state with second-largest soybean-cultivation area in the country. In the municipalities of Guairá and Terra Roxa, the planting of soybean seeds and the use of pesticides have become prevalent. Furthermore, three indigenous Ava-Guarani villages in these municipalities, namely Y’Hovy, Pohã Renda and Ocoy, exemplify the tense relations between indigenous peoples and soy farmers.

The intensive use of pesticides has contaminated rivers and food, poisoning animals and indigenous residents. Pesticides are used as chemical weapons to confine the indigenous population to a shrinking strip of land. The villages, whose water supply depends on rivers and springs, report frequent illnesses, such as vomiting, headaches, miscarriages, respiratory problems and others, especially among the elderly and children. They also report the disappearance of wild birds, bees, butterflies and the animals they hunt, as well as a decline in fish stocks in the rivers. Pesticide spraying also destroys their own crops, which affects the food sovereignty of these villages. Spraying occurs even near indigenous peoples' homes and the roads they use. Laboratory tests have also detected the presence of glyphosate and AMPA in the water sources of the villages.

In Bolivia, the cultivation of genetically modified soy uses around 50% of the cultivated land, mainly in the department of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, where 7 out of 10 hectares of the country's agricultural land is located. In the last decade (2011–2022), around 436,000 hectares of forest have been cleared directly for soy cultivation, which demonstrates how the agricultural model is maintained through the constant incorporation of new areas, at the expense of tropical and primary forests. In Santa Cruz, this situation has also led to at least 256 human settlements, with a total population of 239,491 people, being surrounded by soybean crops at a distance of 500 meters or less. In consequence, several communities in the department have reported impacts on their health and access to food and water.

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Definition

OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises

The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises promote responsible and sustainable corporate conduct globally, especially with regards to human rights and the environment.

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Insight

Pesticides

In Europe and North America, it goes without saying that a pesticide may only be sold if the producer explicitly warns the consumer and public of the product’s risks. This is not the case, however, when international agrochemical corporations sell their products in the Global South. It seems that when it comes to the right to health, life and the preservation of natural resources, the law does not apply equally to all. This is clear from several cases examined by ECCHR in India and the Philippines since 2013.

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