Six Largest Pesticide Manufacturers Stand Trial at International People’s Court

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–December 5, 2011.  On December 3, the 27th anniversary of the Bhopal pesticide plant disaster in Bhopal, India, a trial began in an international people’s court in India involving the world’s six largest pesticide companies: Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, BASF, Dow and Dupont. These companies, collectively known as the “Big 6,” are cited by prosecutors for their human rights violations, including internationally recognized rights to life, livelihood and health. Beyond Pesticides joined Pesticide Action Network (PAN) and others in signing a joint statement demanding that these companies be held accountable for their human rights violations, which was presented at the trial. The trial, hosted by PAN International, is facilitated by the Permanent People’s Tribunal (PTT), an international opinion tribunal independent from State authorities.

The prosecution’s 230-page indictment outlines the global threats to human rights. It begins: The victims and survivors of [pesticide industry] aggression are the poor peasants, small-scale farmers, agricultural workers, rural women, children, and indigenous and agricultural communities around the world. They are at the mercy of the expanding power of the agrochemical [corporations] and are losing their control over their seeds and knowledge, and suffering debilitating physical and chronic effects due to pesticide poisoning, including coping with the destruction of their children’s health. These small food producers are losing their livelihoods, suffering increased hunger and malnutrition, and having their very means of survival threatened. Even children have been victimized and forced to carry the legacy of pesticide poisoning in their bodies, which is then passed onto their descendants.

“Rights to life, health and livelihood are inherent to our humanity,” said Kathryn Gilje, co-director of Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA). “Pesticide corporations have jeopardized these rights because there is no system of accountability that follows actions across national borders or over the decades it takes to prove guilt. Until we hold them accountable, pesticide corporations will continue to avoid responsibility for their human rights violations.”

Below are samples of the more than 25 specific cases included in the indictment.

  • People of Kasargod vs. Bayer. In the district of Kasargod (India) the Plantation Corporation of Kerala aerially sprayed endosulfan on cashew nut plantations for over 20 years, beginning in 1976. As a consequence of the aerial endosulfan spraying, people who live, work and play there have suffered significant congenital, reproductive and long-­‐term neurological damage. In Kasargod, 500 deaths from endosulfan poisoning are officially acknowledged; unofficial estimates place the figure at around 4,000. More than 9,000 people are reported to have had health problems resulting from exposure to endosulfan. More than 1,000 still suffer from long-­‐term health problems.
  • Family of Silvino Talavera vs. Monsanto. Countless people have suffered severe health effects from direct exposure to the chemical cocktail RoundUp, and some have even died. Silvino Talavera, an 11-year-old, is one such example from Paraguay. Silvino was on his way home from school one day when he was enveloped in a cloud of RoundUp being sprayed by a crop duster. He arrived home barely able to breathe and was rushed to the nearest hospital, where he died five days later.
  • Quechua Community vs. Bayer. In violation of FAO’s Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides, Bayer AG marketed its organophosphate insecticide, methyl parathion, in unmarked plastic bags in a largely illiterate Quechua Indian community in Peru. Because of this, the insecticide was unknowingly mixed with the breakfast served to 50 young children at an educational center. 24 out of the 50 children lost their lives and the rest suffered, among other health problems, from neurological damage.
  • Farmers of India vs. Monsanto. In India, Monsanto has monopolized the cottonseed market, resulting in the following: Increased royalties on their seeds, pushing farmers ever deeper into debt; Damaged livestock health as a result of grazing on Bt cotton, often leading to cattle sickness and death; and, Mass farmer suicides in multiple states in India due to inability to make a living.
  • U.S. Farmers vs. Monsanto. Through an aggressive strategy of patenting seed and buying up seed companies, Monsanto has taken over the seed market. The corporation has made it nearly impossible for U.S. farmers to buy non-Monsanto commercial seed crops (cotton, soy, corn & canola). Monsanto has dedicated a staff of 75 people and a budget of $10 million solely to investigating and prosecuting farmers whose crops have cross-pollinated with Monsanto crops. Through this strategy, Monsanto has made between 85 and 160 million dollars off of farmers.

The Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) was founded in Italy in 1979 as a people’s court to raise awareness of massive human rights violations in the absence of another international justice system. The PPT draws its authority from the people while remaining rooted in the rigors of a conventional court format. Citing relevant international human rights laws, precedents and documents such as the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights in its findings, the Tribunal examines and passes judgment on complaints of human rights violations brought by victims and their representative groups.

On December 3, 1984, a pesticide manufacturing plant owned and operated by Union Carbide Corporation (now Dow Chemical) exploded in the middle of the night. Amnesty International estimated that more than 7,000 people died within days of the accident, 15,000 died in later years and 100,000 people have since suffered chronic and debilitating illnesses as a result of the catastrophe and the absence of a site remediation. Union Carbide did not properly clean the site and thousands of tons of toxic chemical waste have been contaminating drinking water. The Indian Council of Medical Research estimated that over a half million people were harmed in some way. Sicknesses including cancer, blindness, immune and neurological disorders and birth defects have affected local residents, many of whom live in surrounding slums. Dow Chemical, the world’s second largest chemical maker, bought Union Carbide in 2001 and therefore assumed its liabilities for the Indian chemical plant disaster in 1984. However, Dow Chemical has refused to clean up the site, provide safe drinking water, compensate the victims, or disclose chemical information to physicians.

Take Action: While much work needs to be done internationally to support the communities and individuals cited in the indictment (learn more about the trial here), Beyond Pesticides encourages individuals to start at home and hit the “Big 6” where it hurts the most -in their wallets. Learn more about how to get pesticides out of your home, community, and food at our Safer Choice webpage, and share the link with your friends, family, and neighbors. For more information on how our food system affects farmworkers and rural families around the world, as well as the environment, see our Eating with a Conscience webpage.