Intensive pesticide use is a major contributor to biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation, undermining the supply of ecosystem services vital for climate change mitigation and adaptation. And it directly harms the people applying the chemicals: in fall 2017, hundreds of farmers were poisoned, some severely, in the central Indian region of Yavatmal. Official documents from India show that the pesticide Polo from the Swiss agrochemical company Syngenta played an important role in the poisonings, and their sometimes fatal consequences.
Poisoning in Yavatmal: Those affected take on pesticide conglomerate Syngenta
India – Pesticides – Syngenta II
On behalf of 51 affected families, the Pesticide Action Network India (PAN India), the Maharashtra Association of Pesticide Poisoned Persons (MAPPP), the Swiss organization Public Eye and ECCHR filed a complaint against Syngenta with the Swiss OECD National Contact Point in Bern in September 2020. Already three months later, the NCP accepted the complaint. However, in June 2022, the mediation proceedings ended without result. Syngenta refused to resitute the affected families, to discuss the role of its product Polo in the poisonings, or to introduce effective preventative measures.
Parallel to the complaint, a survivor and the families of two people who died from the poisoning filed a civil lawsuit in Basel, Switzerland, are also seeking compensation from Syngenta based on product liability. Polo’s active ingredient diafenthiuron came directly from Switzerland. ECCHR supports the complainants, who are represented by our partner law firm schadenanwaelte.
In June 2022, the Basel court granted the plaintiffs legal aid. In doing so, the court indicated that it considers the Swiss company’s liability for its products sold in India as a potential outcome of the proceedings.
Polo is an insecticide with the active ingredient diafenthiuron, which was banned in the EU in 2002. In Switzerland, Polo was taken off the market in 2009, and in March 2017 diafenthiuron was also added to the list of substances that are banned because of their effects on health and the environment. Nevertheless, Syngenta continues to market the pesticide Polo in the Global South, such as India.
The Yavatmal case shows once again that pesticides can only be sold in Europe under strict conditions. This is quite different when international agrochemical companies sell their products in the Global South: farmers often use pesticides without protective equipment and are not informed about the possible dangers. Companies like Bayer and Syngenta know this. Nevertheless, they continue to export these products to maximize profit, accepting negative effects on their customers’ health as part of the cost of doing business. We see tmie and again how easily companies can evade their responsibility for harm in the Global South when no binding legal regulations are in place.
Plaintiff profiles: those affected take on pesticide conglomerate Syngenta