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Public Eye et al. vs. Syngenta

Case overview

Date filed 17 September 2020
Current status Filed
Issue Syngenta pesticide poisons Indian agricultural workers
Summary of the case On 17 September 2020, the Indian Pesticide Action Networks of India and Asia Pacific, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), and Public Eye filed, together with the Maharashtra Association of Pesticides Poisoned Persons, a specific instance to the Swiss NCP on behalf of poison-affected agricultural families in Yavatmal in central India.

According to the complainants, in 2017 approximately 800 agricultural workers in Yavatmal were severely poisoned during a 12-week period when spraying pesticides onto cotton fields. Over 20 of them died. An investigation carried out by Public Eye showed that Polo, an insecticide produced by Syngenta, bears part of the responsibility for the poisonings. Polo contains the active agent “Diafenthiuron,” which has been banned in Switzerland and the EU for years. The NCP complaint examines the cases of 51 farmers who reported using Polo from September to October 2017 (sometimes exclusively of other pesticides). All 51 victims suffered from acute symptoms of poisoning including eye problems, nausea, neurological and muscular complaints, breathing problems, swellings, and skin reactions. According to the complainants, 43 of the 51 people were hospitalised, 44 reported temporary blindness, and 16 were unconscious for between several hours to several days. Most of the victims were unable to work for long periods, a few for up to a year, and 28 report ongoing health problems, including neurological and muscular problems.

The complaint emphasizes that, for many families, the poisoning also had economic and social effects in addition to health effects. The poisoning caused families’ already low household income to fall dramatically. Further, the burden on female family members increased: in addition to looking after the children, women had to care for their sick husbands and work as day labourers in the fields, receiving significantly lower wages than men do. The families’ social lives have also been impacted, as many victims of the poisoning are no longer able to walk longer distances and, due to recurring skin and eye irritations, can no longer withstand the sun. 

The demands of the complainants include that Syngenta refrain from selling toxic pesticides such as Polo to small-scale farmers in India and provide financial compensation for the cost of medical treatment and loss of income incurred by the 51 victims filing the specific instance. 

Separately from the OECD complaint, three families have filed an action for compensation based on product liability law in Basel. These three cases are not part of the OECD complaint.
Developments/Outcome
Relevant OECD Guidelines
Case keywords Health and safety, Human rights, Parallel (legal) proceedings

NCP Information

NCP name National Contact Point Switzerland
NCP address Berne, Switzerland
NCP website https://www.seco.admin.ch/seco/en/home/Aussenwirtschaftspolitik_Wirtschaftliche_Zusammenarbeit/Wirtschaftsbeziehungen/NKP.html
Other NCPs involved

Complainants

NGO

Company Information

Company responsible Syngenta AG
Company address
Company website
Company in violation
Country of operations India
Other companies involved

Timeline of developments

Date Actor Action Description Document
17 September 2020 Public Eye file Complaint filed to Swiss NCP download pdf (5927Kb)  
17 September 2020 Public Eye file Complainants' press release at filing download pdf (471Kb)  

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