Friday, 13 April 2012

Agrochemical companies found guilty

The independent Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) that examines community complaints of human rights abuses has recently examined the operations of the six biggest Agrochemical companies in the world.

Syngenta, Bayer, Monsanto, Dow, DuPont and BASF have a combined 72% share of the global pesticide market worth $44 billion in 2009. In addition Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta control 53% of the global seed market worth $27.4 billion, enabling them to control the green economy.

With the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimating that 355,000 people (split roughly 2/3rds in developing countries and 1/3rd in developed) die each year from poisoning from exposure to pesticides the PPT, which was established back in 1979, provided an opportunity for hundreds of peasant farmers, agricultural workers and activists to meet in Bangalore in early December for a conference organised by PAN. (Pesticides Action Network)

It was an appropriate time to meet, as it was the 37th anniversary of the 1984 Bhopal tragedy in India, in which the release of 40,000 tonnes of lethal gas instantly killed 8,000 people and left many thousands to suffer – and die – in the future. The company responsible, Union Carbine Corporation, was taken over in 2000 by Dow Chemical, one of the main sponsors of the London Olympic Games. The $470 million in compensation agreed as a payout to victims and/or their families represents – at best – a few pounds for each and there’s no chance of any of the senior people responsible for this crime ever doing any time in prison. Mind you, just to make sure, that campaigning activists would find it doubly difficult to get justice it has, in February 2012, been revealed by Wikileaks that Dow employed US-based security think-tank Stratfor to spy on them.

Endosulfan doesn’t kill people quite so quickly, but the insecticidal organochlorine pesticide produced by Bayer and sprayed on crops such as cashews, tea, coffee and cottons has been shown to lead to severe suffering by many communities unfortunate enough to live near the plantations that provide work for them. In Kasargod, Kerala, India spraying between 1976 and 2002 officially killed 500 people, and unofficially eight times as many. Endosulfan is now banned in Kerala, but allowed in other districts of India. As is also the case in China, where the authorities have ignored that 80 countries have now banned the product. So Bayer, who must be aware that their product kills people, continue to supply it to countries where governments must know it will kill their citizens. Profits rule at the expense of ordinary people’s welfare.

Here in Britain, the dangers of organophosphate (OP) sheep dip has been well documented by campaigners such as Brenda Sutcliffe – see article on archive site – who was delighted that her well-researched paper: Cause and effect – was submitted to the Bangalore conference.

Sutcliffe, who suffered, along with members of her family, when forced by government officials to use OP sheep dip in 1992 has estimated that as many as 2,000 shepherds have died as a result of using it – or similar products – in the last two decades. The result though has been a wall of indifference at all levels, including research institutions, government bodies and political parties and MPs, for Brenda and her supporters, who have also demonstrated that OP’s are likely to have been responsible for the many thousands of soldiers made ill by the first Gulf War.

The PPT verdict was that the six companies were ‘responsible for gross, widespread and systematic violations of the right to life, economic, social and cultural rights, as well as of civil and political rights, and women and children rights.’

As all six are based the US, Switzerland and Germany the PPT denounced these three states for failing to regulate, monitor and discipline them and criticised ‘the double standard approach’ in which banned products at home are allowed to be produced for use overseas, especially in the developing world.

States allowing the use of products on their land were criticised for not doing sufficient to protect human rights and bodies such as WHO and the Independent Labour Organisation were blamed for not recognising the urgent need for regulation and redress.

The Tribunal also made a series of recommendations including the establishment of an appropriate mechanism to investigate human rights abuses by major companies, national governments and states not to grant immunity to agrichemical companies from criminal liability and to amend the Rome Statute to include crimes against the environment. Sadly - as we witness a worldwide capitalist drive to push down wages and welfare benefits – none of this seems likely in the near future. But fair play to everyone involved.

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