Dirty cotton - a research on child labour, slavery, trafficking and exploitation in cotton and cotton seed farming in India

Dirty cotton - a research on child labour, slavery, trafficking and exploitation in cotton and cotton seed farming in India

The introduction of genetically modified or BT cotton in India has increased the demand for cheap labour.  Recognising the need to understand and address the growing concern over the engagement of children in the cotton industry in India, this study examines the issue of child labour in four cotton and cotton seed growing states in – Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka and Maharashtra.

The report highlights the following drivers behind prevalence of child labour in cotton industry:

  • 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
  • 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.  Also, there is a myth that children's nimble fingers are ideal for cross pollination in BT cotton seed cultivation
  • there is skewed supply and value chain of cotton, cotton seed and textiles

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 is called for:

  • companies (seed, textile manufacturing, etc) should establish sustainable monitoring mechanisms to check child labour in their supply chains and ensure compliance with child rights
  • national governments must ensure enactment of laws such as child labour laws, right to education, etc or to ensure their greater enforcement (when laws exist)
  • civil society needs 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
  • consumers need 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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