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.
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 on 17 September 2020.
At the same time, a survivor and the families of two people who died from the poisoning filed a civil lawsuit in Bern, Switzerland, 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 the ECCHR partner law firm schadenanwaelte.
For the OECD complaint, PAN India, MAPPP, Public Eye and ECCHR reviewed the cases of 51 farmers who used Polo in their cotton fields between August and December 2017. The complaint demands that Syngenta stop selling dangerous pesticides to small-scale farmers in India that require personal protective equipment, and for which no antidote is available in case of poisoning. In addition, Syngenta must compensate the 51 affected farmers for their treatment costs and lost wages.
Long term, those affected, ECCHR and its partner organizations want to end the double standards in the Global North’s sale of pesticides to the Global South.
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. In March 2017, diafenthiuron was added to the European 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.