Children Are Meant to Learn Not to Work
Smallholder farmers are a vital part of our business, especially for seed production. In many developing countries, children are hired to do farm work or even light industrial labor; because it is part of the local culture and, therefore, tolerated.
In Bayer, we a have strictly zero tolerance policy on child labor as part of our human rights pledge. We are committed to eradicating child labor from our seed production. Our teams are in the field working closely with farmers to help them stabilize their incomes and bring transformational change to their communities. We know that we can only be successful in the long-term if farmers are successful.
Eliminating child labor is not only about compliance with company policy; it is the right thing to do. Helping our supply chain to thrive is crucial especially in countries where smallholder farmers are vital to our seed production.
Through hybrid seed production, contracted smallholder farmers are able to secure higher incomes, allowing them to send their children to school, access credit to expand their activities and improve their nutrition. But change doesn’t happen overnight and we’ve been working for the last 10 years with smallholder farmers involved in seed production to help them see the importance of placing education first and sending their children to school and not to work. In 2017 in Asia Pacific, we hired over 15,000 third party seed production growers for our cotton, rice, millet and mustard seeds.
Our focus and work to ensure children have access to education is paramount, it comes before the production of hybrid seeds. In order to partner with us, seed producers have to go through a training process and sign a “supplier contract” agreeing not to employ children in their fields. Additionally, the program to eradicate child labor includes awareness sessions in which smallholder farmers are trained on the benefits and importance of providing their children education and the commercial implications for them if they do not comply with our zero-tolerance clause on child labor.
Children Are Meant to Learn Not to Work
We have been leading the way concerning child labor elimination in seed production and successfully implemented numerous measures among contracted seed production farms to combat child labor and ensure safe working conditions in our own operations and our supply chain.
Our Child Care Program has a dedicated team of 98 professionals across Asia that are committed to ensure children in the rural communities in which we work have access to education and the opportunities it opens for their future. Engaging and raising awareness through dialogue as well as localized, tailored education programs, farmers begin to understand the importance of keeping children at school and are committed to refrain from hiring them to work on their farms. The positive impact spreads to neighborhood villages and communities.
Simple bans are not enough
When suppliers sign an agreement with Bayer, they accept the obligation to refrain from employing children1. These obligations are clearly spelled out in every contract, must be understood and fully complied with. In some villages, ensuring understanding of these important and binding legal clauses sometimes requires some planning and good communication skills – oftentimes in the local dialect. Seed suppliers who can verify strict compliance to ban child labor receive a bonus from Bayer along with training on agricultural efficiency. Progressive sanctions are applied for non-compliance, which range from written warnings to termination of the contract in the cases of repeated non-compliance. Since the program began, no single third party seed production farmer had its contract canceled because of this requirement.
Following through on our commitment
To make sure that the agreements are honored, seed production activities are closely monitored. Employees from the Child Care Program together with technical experts visit the farms unannounced at least six times a year; especially during the highest activity periods. Our contracted seed production farmers are asked to show proof of the ages of the laborers – such as by producing age certificates for the auditing team.
If a child is found working in the fields, this case is recorded and addressed immediately. Depending on each situation, the team can visit the child’s parents to understand the local context and talk about the importance of education. In the period 2016/17, we reached out to 96,000 monitored workers to verify their details on our contracted cotton seed production farms. Every year we report our advancement in our annual report.
We believe and are committed to fostering education
Taking children out of the fields is not enough; they need to get back into the classroom. The Child Care Program is particularly focused on the “Learning for Life” initiative. It aims at providing children and young adults access to education. We promote particularly science education and vocational training, which includes reintegration into the regular school system to vocational education measures especially in agriculture. Between 2005 and the end of 2017, Learning for Life reached more than 6,400 children and young people. The Bayer-Ramanaidu Vignana Jyothi School of Agriculture provides vocational training to underpriviliged rural youth to prepare them for entry level jobs in agriculture. Since its inception, more than 500 students have graduated from the school.
There are no two similar situations, each country and village has its own complexities; however, we believe the underlying child labor and other human rights topics (poverty, health, and wellbeing) are a global issue and we need to help create and improve working environments that positively impact the surrounding communities. Adopting key global standards endorsed by governments and civil society are an important step in this journey to eradicate child labor and improve working conditions. Our continuous and dedicated work between supply chain and procurement teams and contracted seed production farmers are helping to improve the livelihood of smallholder farmers especially in developing countries and their children.
1According to the UN and the International Labor Organization (ILO) child labor is defined as “any work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children (meaning infants below 15 years or the age defined by applicable law, whichever is highest), interferes with their schooling by depriving them of the opportunity to attend school, obliging them to leave school prematurely; or requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.