Global March

Dirty Cotton: Book Release

The Global March Against Child Labour’s research study “Dirty Cotton” A Research on Child Labour, Slavery, Trafficking and Exploitation in Cotton and Cotton Seed Farming in India was launched by Mr Guy Ryder, Deputy Director General, International Labour Organization (ILO) at New Delhi, India. Also present were Mr Virendra Kasana, Councillor, Municipal Corporation of Delhi for C R Park, Senior Advocate Mr Ramesh Gupta and Global March Chairperson Mr Kailash Satyarthi.

Picking Cotton, Not Books!!

10 year-old Parvati does not go to school like other children of her age. Instead, belonging to a poor family living in rural India, she has to work in the cotton fields. Toiling for 8-10 hours every day in the fields at this tender age and being exposed to harmful pesticides has affected her health adversely. She has lost weight, looks younger than her age and complains of eye irritation.

Dirty Cotton: A Research on Child Labour, Slavery, Trafficking and Exploitation in Cotton and Cotton Seed Farming in India

This is just instance of employment of child labourers in cotton and cotton seed farms in India. Children as young as 7 years are employed in farms to work on a range of tedious and hazardous activities such as cross pollination of seeds, spraying pesticides, performing domestic chores for farmers, etc.

Recognising the need to understand and address the growing concern over the engagement of children in the cotton industry in India, Global March Against Child Labour has conducted a new study – Dirty Cotton: A Research on Child Labour, Slavery, Trafficking and Exploitation in Cotton and Cotton Seed Farming in India. The study examines the issue of child labour in 4 cotton and cotton seed growing states in India – Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka and Maharashtra

Key Findings

Drivers behind prevalence of child labour in cotton industry:

  • Myths – children’s nimble fingers are ideal for cross pollination in BT cotton seed cultivation.
    BT technology is costly so farmers use cheap labour-children.
  • Difficulty in switching from BT technology due to changed soil chemistry and loans taken to meet costs perpetuate child labour. Average loan amount outstanding per cotton and cotton seed farmer was Rs. 15, 890 and Rs. 25, 923.
  • BT cotton seed cultivation has relocated to impoverished areas to use cheap tribal labour and trafficked children from adjacent areas.
  • Diminished regulation in seeds market has allowed companies to follow non-farmer friendly practices.
  • Insufficient awareness about child labour law, right to education, etc among farmers, labourers and families of child labourers.
  • Skewed supply and value chain of cotton, cotton seed and textiles – the value addition from producing raw cotton to transforming it final product (designer fabric) is 850%, but child labour share/cost in this final product is only 0.8%.

To eliminate child labour and ensure that all children are able to get a fulfilled childhood enjoying the right to education and play, the following action can be taken:

  • For companies (seed, textile manufacturing, etc) to establish sustainable monitoring mechanisms to check child labour in their supply chains and ensure compliance with child rights.
  • For national governments to ensure enactment of laws such as child labour laws, right to education, etc or to ensure their greater enforcement (when laws exist)
  • For civil society to create awareness for ethical consumerism and engage with different stakeholders (companies, governments, etc) to ensure their respective commitments and action for protection of child rights
  • For consumers to demand information from companies about the use of child labour in their products before making their purchases and commit to using only child labour free products.
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