Hold the Big 6 accountable
Six multinational corporations dominate the agricultural input market, and they're in cahoots. The "Big 6" — Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow, DuPont, Bayer and BASF — have gobbled up so much of the pesticide and patented seed market that they now set the terms for how food is grown globally.
Together, the Big 6 control 76% of the global pesticide market and 60% of the global seed market. These industries are among the most powerful in the world. And they wield this power with impunity, violating basic human rights to life, health and livelihood around the globe.
Farmers have lost their land. Farmworkers are repeatedly exposed to hazardous chemicals. Families have lost loved ones to cancer. And children do daily battle with birth defects or developmental disabilities. There are many ways in which the chemically dependent food system has resulted in real, human loss.
Time for action
The pesticide industry has a long history of getting away with human rights abuses in part because there has been no single set of laws to which they are accountable as global corporations. But on June 16, 2011 — after participating in a multi-year effort with the UN Human Rights Council — the U.S. took a small step in the right direction, endorsing an accord that states:
- Governments have a duty to protect people against human rights abuses by third parties, including businesses;
- Corporation are responsible for respecting human rights; and
- Victims must have access to effectively address and remedy violations.
Now it’s time for the U.S. to act on this agreement and develop a National Action Plan to address human rights violations by large pesticide corporations.
A history of abuses
On December 3, 1984, more than 8,000 people died in Bhopal, India — in one of the worst industrial accidents in history — when a pesticide manufacturing plant owned and operated by Union Carbide Corporation (now Dow Chemical) exploded in the middle of the night. In the 29 years since, the area surrounding the plant remains a toxic waste site and 20,000 more have died as a result of this one event.
Worldwide, an estimated 355,000 people die from pesticide exposure every year. This means that nearly 1,000 men, women and children die on an average day. Source: World Bank
The night after the explosion, the company's CEO hopped on a private jet and fled the country; Dow Chemical has yet to be held accountable for the tens of thousands of human lives that have been destroyed in the wake of Bhopal.
This kind of failure of justice is not unusual: Monsanto, Dow, Bayer and other pesticide corporations have long acted with impunity because there is no court of law equipped to hold them to account.
Guilty as charged
In December 2011, on the 27th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster, PAN International launched a landmark initiative to hold the pesticide industry accountable for human rights abuses.
The Permanent People's Tribunal found the Big 6 guilty of human rights abuses spanning over 25 specific cases and 16 countries. The trial was based upon the first-hand testimony and lived experiences of rural communities, peasants, agricultural workers, indigenous people, fisherfolk, migrant workers, small scale farmers, children, activists, scientists and consumers from around the world — all of whom had suffered human rights violations at the hands of the Big 6.
Following the rigors of a conventional court format, this trial was convened on the basis of the following principles:
- Human dignity: People need meaningful work at a living wage — this is called livelihood, and with it comes dignity.
- Health: The right to human health is internationally recognized, and is the condition of a fair society.
- Accountability: Governments should strive to serve the interests of their people, and have a basic responsibility to protect the public good — especially against the excesses of corporate greed.
At the end of an intensive public trial — spanning four days, five languages, and over a dozen participating states — the jury issued a scathing verdict that called for a roll-back of corporate control over the food system. The guilty verdict was delivered to each of the corporations as well as the U.S. government.
Rein in the Big 6
Corporations like Monsanto must be held accountable for violating human rights. Until they are, none of us will be safe from the next Bhopal, or from the epidemics of cancer or the pesticides that travel on wind, water and on food; farmers’ and beekeepers’ livelihoods will be under threat; and children will be born with birth defects, neuro-developmental harms, or not at all, as more struggle with chemically induced infertility.
We the people must hold corporations to account and compel our governments to take action to protect human rights from corporate abuse.
Join us in carrying this work forward!