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US Department of Labor Executive Order 13126 requires the Department of Labor to publish and maintain a list of products, by country of origin, which might have been mined, produced or manufactured by forced or indentured child labor. A few products from India that make it to this dubious list are bricks, cottonseed(hybrid), embroidered textiles(zari), garments, rice, and stones. Carpet was initially on the list. However, the Labor Department removed the product citing various reports that indicate reduction of child labor.

Child labour in Indian cotton fields. Image source: http://www.indianet.nl

For long, India has been violating child labor rights and laws. Despite various laws, industries, and factories flouting child labor laws are rampant across the country.  Take the example of the hybrid cottonseed industry.

A new system of employing female children as `bonded labourers’ has come into practice on hybrid cottonseed farms in south India. Local seed farmers, who cultivate hybrid cottonseeds for national and Multinational Seed Companies, secure the labour of girls by offering loans to their parents in advance of cultivation, compelling the girls to work at the terms set by the employer for the entire season, and, in practice, for several years.  These girls work long days, are paid very little, are deprived of an education and are exposed for long periods to dangerous agricultural chemicals. Source: Dr.Davuluri Venkateswarlu

And the companies that are involved include multinational companies (MNC’s) operating either through Indian subsidiaries or joint ventures. Companies are Hindustan Lever Limited (for Unilever Plc ),  Syngenta India (for Syngenta AG ) Advanta India (for Advanta BV) Monsanto India and Mahyco  (for Monsanto), Proagro (for Bayer) and Mahendra Hybrid Seeds (for Emergent Genetics)

It is estimated that nearly 450,000 children, in the age group of 6 to 14 years, are employed in cottonseed fields in India, in which the Telangana, Rayalseema region of Andhra Pradesh alone account for about 247,800. Source: Dr.Davuluri Venkateswarlu

It is well known that all MNCs  claim to be committed to highest standards of socially responsible corporate behaviour. However,  their activities in the area of cottonseed business in India appears to be out of sync with their claims as is demonstrated by Dr. Venkateswarlu’s paper and other reports.

The inability of the Indian legal system to address the issue of child labor has created a need for NGOs, international organizations, and  conscientious consumers to be more vigilant.