Back to school

At Bayer, we absolutely do not tolerate child labor. And our zero tolerance policy applies across our entire supply chain. Suhas Joshi, Head Sustainability & Business Stewardship, South Asia talks about the genesis and journey of the ‘Child Care Program’ - a concerted and integrated approach to ensure that children no longer have to labour in the fields but instead walk to a rural school for lessons every day.


Childhood is a time for children to be in school and at play, to grow strong and confident with the love and encouragement of their family and extended communities. It is an impressionable age in which children should live free from fear, safe from violence and protected from abuse and exploitation. However, for over a decade, many children from around the world have been forced to earn a living and support their families. In many developing countries, industrial labour or farm labour are seen as part of domestic culture and thus, accepted. Among all the factors that greatly influence child labour, poverty has always reigned on top. Often families need extra income to make ends meet and pay debts, which again, is one of the contributing factors to this growing concern.


2002: First traces of children on the field

With the purchase of Aventis CropScience in December 2002, Bayer India entered into the seed business thereby acquiring, among others, the Hyderabad based Indian seed company Proagro, now Bayer BioScience Private Limited. At first sight, hybrid seed production and marketing complemented well with our Company’s strategy. But the activities involved in hybrid seed production stood in stark contrast to the centralized production of crop protection products — where chemicals were manufactured in large quantities in closely controlled conditions in only a handful of factories. In comparison, hybrid seed production was dispersed among thousands of small farms who had different needs across seeds and seasons. By 2006, nearly 30,000 farmers were contracted by Bayer India in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu to supply rice, cotton, mustard, sunflower and corn seeds. Like many other companies working in seed production, they relied on “seed organizers”, who selected the farmers and contracted with them on behalf of the company.


Few months post acquisition, we started learning about the incidence and prevalence of child labour in its newly acquired supply chain operations. Child labour was widespread in the cottonseed industry, and was accepted by Indian farmers. Production of hybrid cottonseed was labour-intensive, complex and time-consuming. Cottonseed farming required approximately 10 times more labour days than ordinary commercial cotton production. It required approximately 2,200 labour days per acre. Cross-pollination, a crucial stage in the farming process was done manually and continued for six months. To help with the cross-pollination stage, farmers frequently contracted extra labour. Children were often preferred because their nimble fingers were useful in carrying out the emasculation and cross-pollination and their height matched the height of the cotton plant. Additionally, children were agile, cheap and made fewer demands than adults.


As a first step to tackle this issue, we started working together with other multinational companies and the seed industry association who were facing similar problems. This resulted in the formation of the Child Labour Elimination Group (CLEG) which used communication strategies in particular to persuade farmers to terminate child labour. Soon it became increasingly clear to us that additional comprehensive approaches with a long-term impact were necessary to bring about a real change in the mindset of village communities.


2007: Launch of the Child Care Program (CCP) in India

A dedicated team within Bayer was formed to put the Child Care Program (CCP) into practice which was based on a three-pillar approach - communication, implementation and education. Each pillar had a well-defined action plan. We started to spend more time finding children and ensuring that they stayed out of the farms. We had to be careful not to pressurize farmers beyond a limit; farmers had the option of working with other companies.


Field-monitoring visit to ensure adherence to no child labour

Besides a contractual ban on child labour, our approach included monitoring of fields as well as issuing of incentives and sanction schemes for adherence, wherein a 5 per cent bonus on the procurement price were paid to farmers who did not engage in child labour. As an additional incentive, we also offered them a productivity enhancement training program called “Target 400”. However, the additional income and incentives did not motivate all farmers.


For some, hiring child labour still meant a low cost of production and better labour management. Penalties were then put in place to curb the practice of employing children on fields - a first-time violation of the new contractual provision resulted in a warning. If the farmer was found employing child labour a second time, the company cut 10 per cent of the procurement price. A third violation terminated the contract.


The third pillar focused on education. We launched a set of innovative educational projects to tackle poor access to education - one of the undisputed factors that perpetuated child labour in rural India. Most children found working on cottonseed farms had either dropped out of school or had never attended formal school. In some communities, there were no alternatives to farm work.


We launched programs for the construction of schools and funded educational materials. Bayer contracted the Naandi Foundation, a children’s educational organization, to take the children who were found working on the farms and enroll them into regular schools. The project established 23 Creative Learning Centers for such children in 19 villages in Andhra Pradesh. These centers operated for two to three hours every day and provided children with academic support prior to joining regular schools. The project also placed considerable emphasis on motivating parents and mobilizing the community at large to support education for all children. The campaign stressed on the critical importance of removing children below the minimum age for work from all forms of child labour, and ensuring they have access to quality education and attend school at least until they complete compulsory education and reach the minimum legal age for work.


This practice slowly but steadily resulted in a genuine win-win situation for all involved. Children received education instead of having to work in the fields, giving them a better start in life. Farmers acquired a substantial volume of know-how to improve their cultivation methods, which resulted in a better quality of seeds produced, among other benefits. With this program, Bayer became the first company to have achieved a lasting impact in tackling child labour in India – a commitment that was highlighted in the 9th Human Rights Report of the German Federal Government.


Since 2007, this sustainable program has covered crop cultivation areas in India like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Gujarat and we now have more than 50,000 farmers contracted with us who follow our principle of zero tolerance to child labour.