Although the seed industry has undertaken a number of initiatives to combat child labor in seed production activities, at company and association levels that goal has not been achieved. Child labor in seed supply chains appears to be especially prevalent in India. The problem received significant attention in the early 2000s, particularly in hybrid cotton seed production. In 2010, the alarm was raised for child labor in hybrid vegetable seed production*, with reports that more than 150,000 children, almost half of which were under the age of 14, were involved in the production of vegetable seeds in three states. Five years later, the situation had hardly improved**, with reports noting that in 2014-2015, children under 14 still accounted for up to 16% of the total workforce on vegetable seed farms in India. The seeds produced on these farms were reported to be produced mainly for multinational vegetable seed companies and large Indian seed companies, including index companies Syngenta, Bayer, Monsanto, Corteva Agriscience, Advanta, Namdhari Seeds, East-West Seed, Kalash Seeds, Nuziveedu Seeds, Limagrain, Sakata and Mahyco. In recent years, seed associations, including the International Seed Federation, the Asia and Pacific Seed Association and Plantum in the Netherlands, have condemned child labor and acknowledged the pervasiveness of the issue in the industry. Individual seed companies have also tried to address the problem in various ways. The large majority of the 13 global seed companies publicly condemns child labor in their activities, and most of them report having monitoring systems in place at their seed production partners. Regional companies active in South and Southeast Asia largely lack robust child labor eradication commitments, and less than half have monitoring systems in place.
Seed production in India has seen exceptional growth in the last decades. India is currently the second largest vegetable seed producer in the world, after China***. This partly explains the focus on India in assessing whether seed is produced in line with universal human rights standards. In 2017, the country took steps to eliminate the worst forms of child labor, including child labor in vegetable seed production14. As seed production activities increase in other countries and regions around the world, including many index countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, there are concerns about the extent to which labor standards are being upheld and monitored beyond India. Regional companies in Western and Central Africa and Eastern and Southern Africa largely lack robust child and forced labor standards, while virtually all of these companies have seed production activities. Similarly, global seed companies have seed production locations in these regions as well. This underlines the importance for the industry to develop and implement more robust commitments and effective monitoring systems to prevent and eliminate child labor from its direct and indirect operations worldwide.
*Arisa, Growing Up in the Danger Fields, Child and Adult Labour in Vegetable Seed Production in India, June 2010 (http://www.indianet.nl/pdf/dangerfields.pdf).
**Arisa, Soiled Seeds: Child Labour and Underpayment of Women in Vegetable Seed Production in India, November 2015 (http://www.indianet.nl/pdf/SoiledSeeds.pdf).
***Durga Prasad Moharana et al., Seed Production in Vegetable Crops: The Indian Prospects,Progressive Research – An International Journal, 2016 (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/314104201_Seed_Production_in_Vegetable_Crops_The_Indian_Prospects).