When you read the Hindustan Times, the numbers aren’t easily discerned. Today, the headline reads, Four Lakh Children Slogging In Cotton Fields: Report. To a US reader, the word “lakh” may seem like the name of a province. But a lakh is not an area of India. A lakh is equal to 100,000. It’s a large number. Too large.
Based on the field research done by Glocal Research, the report said that out of the total number of children involved in child labour in the cotton industry, 2.25 lakh are below the age of 14.
The report also said that the children are made to work for 8 to 12 hours with a paltry earning of Rs 20 to 30 per day. “They are routinely exposed to poisonous pesticides and often trafficked as migrants from other districts and states,” the report said.
While in Tamil Nadu and Gujarat more than 80% of the children are trafficked, North Gujarat ‘receives’ tens of thousands of children from Rajasthan every year. The children often live in makeshift shelters and are vulnerable to mental, physical and sexual abuse, the report said.
Two large multinational companies were named in the report, Monsanto and Bayer.
A report like this calls into question Monsanto’s seemingly hollow pledge to “convert values to actions and results, and to make clear who we are and what we champion.” It’s hard to imagine that those at the very tops of the organization are not aware of these practices. So their actions make clear what they champion.
With Bayer, the irony is even more evident. Their slogan, Science For A Better Life, may sound nice, but not if that is not extended to a better life for these force child laborers. Not surprising however, given that “a will to succeed” and “a passion for our stakeholders” come ahead of other stated values, like “integrity openness and honesty” and “respect for people and nature.”
In my experience, big business clearly holds some values more valuable than others.