After three days of deliberations in Bangalore, India (3-6 December 2011), the Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) cited human rights violations of the world’s six largest agrochemical industries: Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, Dow Chemical, DuPont and BASF.
Over 355,000 persons die each year from pesticide poisoning and hundreds of thousands more are made ill. Testimonies of persons who had been harmed by pesticides and biotechnology were presented. The practices of the agrichemical industry, which is valued at $42 billion, affect the environment, food, health, children and future generations.
The Pesticide Action Network (PAN) represented victims of pesticide exposure world-wide. This global network of over 600 organizations in 90 countries works to eliminate the use of pesticides and other harmful technologies. In 2008, it asked the PPT to investigate the activities of the six agrochemical companies, which were harming health, pillaging the environment and destroying ecological balance and diversity.
The Permanent People’s Tribunal, founded in Italy in 1979, is an international court of opinion which investigates human rights violations. Although not legally binding, its verdicts can create a precedent for legal action against those on trial and pressure governments and institutions to take appropriate action.
The trial began on the anniversary of the 1984 Bhopal disaster in India where over 20,000 persons died from an explosion at the Dow Chemical facility.
Testimonies were delivered by victims of industry’s products and practices. One woman, who handled the very toxic herbicide paraquat by hand, was blinded. Paraquat is made by the Swiss company Syngenta and used in over 100 countries, although banned in Switzerland. In Malaysia, 30,000 women working in palm oil plantations as pesticide sprayers, were acutely poisoned by the herbicide.
The mother of an Indian girl had been exposed to endosulfan during pregnancy. The girl was born with four fingers on each hand and a severely deformed lower limb which recently had to be amputated. Her mother died of cancer. Endosulfan, made by the German company Bayer and banned world-wide only in April 2011, was responsible for the deaths of over 4,000 persons from aerial spraying of cashew plantations in Kerala India.
Other testimonies included those from an American farmer who nearly lost his farm when Monsanto found genetically-modified seed on his property; and a University of California Berkeley professor and former researcher at Syngenta who was threatened by this company when he disclosed the harm caused by their lucrative pesticide, atrazine.
The three multinationals implicated continue to make and distribute pesticides, fully aware of their dangers, especially in Third World countries where regulations are lax. These companies justify the use of these harmful technologies and pesticides as their responsibility to “feed the world.”
The verdict of the 6-person jury decreed that the six multinationals are responsible for the poisoning of human and environmental health, the loss of food sovereignty and hunger in the world.
Specifically, the Tribunal declared that the six agrochemical companies were responsible for “gross, widespread and systematic violations of the right to health and life, economic, social and cultural rights, as well as civil and political rights, and women and children’s rights.” The corporate governance of these companies has “caused avoidable catastrophic risks, increasing the prospects of extinction of biodiversity, including species whose continued existence is necessary for reproduction of human life.”
The three countries where the multinationals are headquartered (German, Switzerland, the United States) “have failed to adequately regulate, monitor and discipline these (companies) by national laws and policy and have not … respected human rights and social movement citizen protests against human rights violation in the move towards a Second Green Revolution.” These countries have “unjustifiably promoted a double standard approach prohibiting the production of hazardous chemicals at home while allowing their own multinational companies unrestrained license for this enterprise in other States, especially of the Global South.”
Countries which import the technology of these multinationals were also held accountable. The Tribunal declared that they had not adequately protected “human rights and social movement activists from … harassment” nor “independent scientists who in serious scientific research demonstrate severe future risks inherent in the development and distribution of chemical substances”. Furthermore, these countries are not “recognizing the value of indigenous knowledge” and not “fully pursuing alternative and less hazardous forms of agriculture production.”
Some of the policies of the United Nations specialist agencies (WHO, FAO and ILO) “are not fully responsive to the urgency of regulation and redress, as articulated by suffering peoples, and human rights and social movement activist groups and associations.”
Regarding the policies of the World Trade Organization, specifically its Intellectual Property Rights (patents), “protection is not balanced with any sincere regard for the grave long-term hazards to humans and nature already posed by the activities of agrobusiness and agrochemical industries.”
The Tribunal made several recommendations including calling on governments to “prosecute the (accused) agrochemical companies in terms of criminal liability rather than civil liability”. It also declared that these governments should “take action to restructure international law so as to make the agrochemical corporations accountable for their activity and products … and to fully commit to and legislate for the precautionary principle.”
One article on the Tribunal concluded with these words: “We must unite the strength and determination of peoples to resist the greed and aggression of these six multinationals in order to ensure justice and liberate ourselves from their control”, as has shown the verdict of the Tribunal.
(Note: The Pesticide Action Network link is for the North American branch.)
by Meris Michaels