Dr Vineeta Dutta Roy, associate professor and head, CSR, Birla Institute of Management Technology, Greater Noida
Over many decades, an intense debate has been raging in India as to the causes of child labor. Although this in many ways mirrors the debate existing elsewhere in the world, it's a socio-economic burden that India is unable to ward off despite its unparalleled growth story since independence. More than half a million children in India below 18 years are working in seed production farms. This is mainly because hybrid seed production is very labor-intensive process and farmers are often at a loss to tackle complicated issues such as increasing cost of production, labor-scarcity due to urban migration and sometimes sheer poverty.
Gaps in the system: A National Policy on Child Labor in 1987 was adopted. This Policy seeks to adopt a gradual and sequential approach with a focus on rehabilitation of children working in hazardous occupations. It envisioned strict enforcement of Indian laws on child labor combined with development programs to address the root causes of child labor such as poverty. However, public awareness of child labor is still very limited, making it difficult to build grass roots support for collective action.
Confronting the child labor challenge: In December 2002, Bayer Group completed the acquisition of India-based Aventis CropScience. Bayer CropScience first learned about the incidence and prevalence of child labor in its newly acquired India-based cottonseed operations a few months post acquisition, in April 2003. The Aventis acquisition had brought on board a well-known Indian company, Proagro, which already had operations in the cottonseed production and marketing-a new segment of the supply chain for Bayer. Child labor was widespread in cottonseed production-a traditional practice taken for granted not only by Indian farmers but also by several 100 Indian companies then accounting for approximately 90 percent of the market share. Faced with alarming statistics and evidence of child labor in the supply chain of its newly acquired subsidiary, the company sought to eliminate the practice of employing child labor on cottonseed contract farms. This unique program was strengthened in 2005, when the company turned it into a multi-level action program.
Child care program: For the past seven years, Bayer CropScience has worked effectively to implement a comprehensive multilevel Child Care Program (CCP) as a part of its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). CCP has been rolled out in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat, and Tamil Nadu where the company has contracted cottonseed production. It aims at getting children off the fields of contract farmers and into the schools. Bayer CropScience Child Care Program was set up with robust management systems that formulated specific actions, step-by-step, for identifying and monitoring child labor at cottonseed farms. Awareness rising was at the heart of its proposal.
A well-planned awareness activity was envisaged that included everything from written messages against child labor, printed on all company seed packaging in local languages, to farmer awareness campaigns, to traditionally accepted media such as puppet shows, slides in cinema theaters and street plays. The campaign message was standardized as "Let's stop children from working, let's protect their right to education." A series of program-enabling elements such as a sophisticated monitoring program, an incentive and sanction scheme, Target 400, a training program for the enhancement of farmers' productivity, safe use and handling of crop protection products became a part of the model. A strict guideline based on company policy of "zero tolerance for child labor", was implemented and Bayer started working only with those farmers who confirm by contract not to employ children on their fields.