Community Engagement Helped to Reduce Child Labor in India

In India today, many children, living near our business partners’ fields in rural areas of the Karnataka, Gujarat and Gadwal regions, spend most of their time in school, engaged in lessons. A few years ago, at least 20 percent of those same children would have spent the entire day walking cotton fields.

Child labor is a social and cultural issue in India, and many people residing in rural locations of the country consider it an acceptable practice.

“Instead of sending their children to school, some parents prefer their children to work on farms to earn money to contribute to the family’s livelihood,” said Mella Radha Madhav, Monsanto’s human rights lead in India.

Most of the agricultural operations in India are manual, labor-intensive processes. Growers recruit child workers to replace the dwindling adult workforce, which is steadily migrating from rural villages to larger cities in hopes of better opportunities. Typically, parents who allow their children to work in fields daily did not attend school themselves.

“The growers or workers often see the short-term benefit of their child earning an additional income for the family and fail to see the long-term disadvantages of a lack of education on a child’s life,” said Madhav.

From 2005-2011, Monsanto led efforts that reduced the incidence of child labor for our business partners in India significantly from 20 percent to less than one-half of 1 percent (0.5%).  After Monsanto acquired additional business partners in hybrid cotton seed in 2011, the number of growers in India increased by nearly 10,000. Many of the new growers had not planned sufficiently to secure enough adult labor for pollination, which led to a slight increase to 0.3 percent of child labor in our business partners’ workforce. The Monsanto India team launched innovative improvements to their campaign to curtail child labor in 2012.

“While working on the elimination of child labor, we needed to emphasize the long-term benefits of child education by adopting a holistic approach with support from the community and stakeholders,” said Madhav.

Starting in 2005, the Child Care Program (CCP) focused on educating farm families about child labor and removing children from monitored fields with the help of field teams, the human rights team and a multi-stakeholder steering committee comprised of industry members and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

In response to the slight increase in child labor in 2012, the Monsanto India team emphasized new activities to increase program effectiveness and ensure that children attend school. This included creating a group of social mobilizers, engaging the community and modifying the audit protocol.

Despite logistical issues in rural areas, the women social mobilizers, a group of women with social work academic backgrounds, visited 389 schools and 143 women self-help groups and met nearly 3,500 grower families in 459 villages. The self-help groups provided a platform to discuss and resolve child labor with the children’s parents, who are members of these groups.

“The women involved are vital to the success of this program,” said Madhav. “They continuously share success stories of the children who continue their education and inform others about how child field labor adds early exposure to potential life-threatening situations, such as snake bites.”

Additional community participation supplemented the efforts of the self-help groups. Rallies were held in production villages to encourage dropouts to return to school, and public oath ceremonies involved parents to make a commitment to comply with the Indian Right to Education Act and Child Rights Protection Act.

Monsanto also modified the audit protocol to collect additional data in order to classify children found working on farms as either “school going” or “school dropouts” to enable the appropriate course of follow up. The social mobilizers were encouraged to use this information to make follow up visits to both the schools and homes of children.

As part of the previous campaign, Monsanto continues to engage the community through the Model Village School Honoring Program, which recognizes the farmers’ and communities’ efforts to operate as a child labor-free village. Furthermore, Monsanto donates items, such as bags and computers, depending on each school’s infrastructure needs. Also, partnering nongovernmental organizations, such as the Center for Applied Research and Extension (CARE), increase engagement through awareness programs and activities, like involving children in gardening lessons, teaching health and safety and strengthening parent-teacher committees.

“We’ve been able to maintain the momentum of these efforts through proper planning, implementation of best practices and keeping all groups engaged,” said Madhav. “Field teams train on Monsanto’s policies every season. We consider schools as ‘change centers,’ and we treat children as ‘ambassadors for change.’”

After the 2012 season, Monsanto’s comprehensive monitoring results indicated a reduction in child labor in our business partners’ fields to 0.2 percent on third-party contracted grower farms for hybrid cottonseed production, and even lower for other seed production sites for corn and vegetables.

“The Monsanto team considers complying with the human rights policy as an integral part of the business, and the team wholeheartedly commits to this effort,” said Madhav. “Setting good examples and processes for others to follow has also been a great achievement.”

Monsanto’s project, “Respecting and Protecting Child Rights in India,” is a nominee for the Global Sourcing Council’s Sustainable and Socially Responsible Sourcing (3S) Awards Program in the “Community Engagement” category. GSC 3S awards program honors the best sustainable and socially responsible practices in global sourcing, as implemented by companies, corporations and individuals supporting global sustainable development, social responsibility, ethical and ecological business practices and the general idea of giving back to the local community. 

From Sept. 17, 2013 through Oct. 10, 2013, you can vote for Monsanto’s project, Respecting and Protecting Child Rights in India, for the GSC 3S People's Choice Award.