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Bern/Berlin – Today, the Swiss OECD National Contact Point (NCP) accepted the complaint against agrochemical company Syngenta over alleged pesticide poisonings in the central Indian region of Yavatmal caused by the company’s insecticide Polo*. The complaint was filed on behalf of 51 affected families on 17 September 2020 by the Maharashtra Association of Pesticide Poisoned Persons (MAPPP), together with the Pesticide Action Network India (PAN India) and Asia Pacific (PAN AP), the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and Public Eye.
Today’s decision enables both parties to enter the mediation phase. Affected farmers, their families and the supporting organizations from India and Europe are determined to engage in this process. “It’s a very important step in the procedure that raises a lot of expectations among the group of 51 farmers that the company will finally recognize the role its product Polo played in the poisonings,” says Dileep Kumar of PAN India.
In autumn 2017, cotton farmers were severely poisoned by pesticides in the Yavatmal region. Syngenta categorically denied any responsibility for the health and financial consequences of the events, claiming that there is “absolutely no evidence” that Polo caused the poisoning. Contrary to company statements, official documents obtained by the complaining organizations reveal that the police recorded 96 cases of poisoning linked to Syngenta’s pesticide, two of which led to fatalities.
The complaining organizations reiterate that the mediation must cover the question of individual remedy for the harm caused to the group of 51 farmers, and address continuing human rights violations caused by the abiding business practice of Syngenta. The company continues to sell its hazardous product Polo with insufficient product warnings to farmers in rural India, who have no access to adequate personal protective equipment.
While today’s decision is not a recognition that Syngenta has violated the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, the NCP concludes that the issues raised in the complaint merit further consideration and now offers its good offices to the parties in the form of a mediation. “It’s time for Syngenta to come to the table and end its strategy of complete denial. Instead, it should now seek a joint solution with complaining organizations on how to provide remedy for those affected and how to avoid further poisonings of small scale users with hazardous pesticides that require Personal Protective Equipment and for which – like in the case of Polo – no antidote is available,” demands Miriam Saage-Maaß, program director for Business and Human Rights at ECCHR.
In December 2019 Syngenta had explicitly requested that the allegations on pesticides poisonings are submitted to the Swiss NCP to start an OECD complaintOn behalf of the farmers, the Maharashtra Association of Pesticides Poisoned Persons and all other submitting organizations now ask Syngenta to live up to its own call for a constructive mediation and accept the good offices of the NCP,” says Saage-Maaß.
* Polo is an insecticide with the active ingredient diafenthiuron, which was taken off the market in Switzerland in 2009. It is on the list of chemicals subject to PIC, which means that the ingredient was banned to protect the environment or human health. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has classed diafenthiuron as “toxic if inhaled” and stated that it “may cause damage to organs through prolonged or repeated exposure.”
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. 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.
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