Although the International Labour Organization (ILO) has said there are one-third fewer children worldwide working today than there were 15 years ago, the problem continues, and a new report released Thursday revealed that India is going against the global grain.
According to “Cotton’s Forgotten Children,” a study from the India Committee of the Netherlands and the Stop Child Labour Coalition, around 200,000 children below the age of 14 worked in the country’s cottonseed industry in 2014—a number that’s doubled since the last all-India report on the issue in 2010—and two-thirds of them are girls.
Furthermore, the 47-page study estimated that underage laborers in the cotton fields make up about 25 percent of the Indian workforce, while another 35 percent comprises children between the legal working ages of 14 and 18. All are employed “on a long-term contract basis through loans extended to their parents by local seed producers, who have agreements with the large national and multinational seed companies,” and most are school-dropouts.
The study, which surveyed 396 farms in 72 villages, pointed out that child laborers are forced to work long hours for less than minimum wage and criticized the Indian government’s attempts to address the problem.
Cottonseed farms in the Western state of Gujarat accounted for more than half of all under-14 workers, while Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Rajashtan employed the remainder. All six states are responsible for nearly 95 percent of total cottonseed production in India.
“There is a misconception, which is propagated by government and some seed companies, that most of the working children in seed production are family laborers who help their parents during school holidays and before and after school hours. This is not correct,” the report said.
While it credited initiatives undertaken by the likes of Bayer, Monsanto and DuPont to reduce the number of working children, it said these efforts have had a “limited impact” and called on all major seed companies to “come forward and implement serious measures in collaboration with other stakeholders” to “combat the overall problem of child labor.”
Among other things, the report recommended that multinational companies take responsibility to ensure that their business partners adhere to nationally and internationally defined labor rights and that a government taskforce be set up to safeguard these rights.