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The Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) Session on Agrochemical Transnational Corporations Case Summary

Quest for accountability and justice


Agrochemical corporations have committed gross, widespread, and systematic human rights violations. And they have amassed billions of dollars in profits along the way. Through acquisitions and mergers, today only six corporations–Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, Dow, DuPont, and BASF Group–control 75 per cent of the global pesticides market and 67 per cent of the seeds market. They continue to grow in power while innocent people continue to suffer, unheard and unrecognised as victims and survivors of crimes

The PPT is a giant step towards ending the impunity with which agrochemical TNCs commit these crimes. Defendants Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, Dow, DuPont, and BASF will be charged with violations of more than 20 instruments of international human rights law. Before a distinguished panel of international jurors, witnesses will provide valuable testimony against these corporations for violations of the right to health and life; right to safe working conditions; right to a safe environment; right to livelihood; right to food and food sovereignty; right to freedom from interference with the family and home; right to self-determination; right to participation and information; rights of human rights defenders; and rights of women and children.

Similarly, the governments of the U.S., Switzerland and Germany, home states of the Defendant TNCs, will be charged for failing to regulate the production and sale of the hazardous pesticides all by the Defendant TNCs and for failing to hold them accountable for their wrongful acts and omissions. Instead, they have aided in the expansion of these TNCs, reflecting their own imperialistic interests for economic and political dominance. The U.S. government, for instance, has pushed GE crops as food aid to Africa, and U.S. diplomats have pressured other governments to suppress resistance to genetically modified organisms. Collusion is rampant between U.S. government and TNCs through the “revolving door” policy and secret meetings between officials, which undermine effective regulation.

Also charged in the PPT are the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and the World Trade Organization. Through structural adjustment programmes and free trade agreements, these institutions have ensured that governments of Third World countries allow and promote the use of the agricultural inputs supplied by agrochemical TNCs.

PAN International adheres to the Precautionary Principle, including full protection of health and the environment over business interests. This principle states that extensive scientific data and exhaustive analysis of risks should not be preconditions to policy formulation and action on toxic chemicals, when long-term impacts of toxic chemicals are difficult to predict and often impossible to prove. Thus, affected communities need not carry the burden of proof of harm. They can push for preventive action and policies, and resist the corporate push for hazardous chemicals. All of the defendants have failed to exercise the Precautionary Principle and exposed millions of people and the environment to unconscionable harm.

The existing state of law, both national and international, has provided legal loopholes and safe havens for TNCs. Most international human rights laws and conventions only recognise the obligations of States to protect the rights of their own citizens. They do not address violations by private actors such as corporations. Currently, there is no international forum with the power to enforce international human rights law in relation to violations committed by agrochemical TNCs. The International Court of Justice, the judicial arm of the United Nations, only has jurisdiction over U.N. member States while the International Criminal Court only has jurisdiction over natural persons, and not corporations.

As mentioned, home states lack the political will to hold agrochemical TNCs legally accountable even for horrific crimes. When foreign nationals file a case in TNCs’ home states, national courts refuse to hear it on the grounds that it is best heard in the host countries where the violation took place. An example is the Bhopal victims’ tragic quest for justice. Since the dismal out-of-court settlement in 1989, cases have been filed in the U.S. against Dow, the new owner of Union Carbide. But U.S. courts refuse to exercise jurisdiction over them. No company official has been punished to this day.

To fill the enforcement gaps in current international human rights laws and mechanisms, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) established a set of criteria to determine corporate liability and complicity in gross human rights abuses. According to the ICJ, in order for liability to arise, there must be both causation and state of mind (actus rea and mens rea). Causation is established if the corporation has enabled, exacerbated or facilitated the gross human rights violation/s. State of mind means that there is actual intent—that the corporation knew or ought to have known that the violation or abuse would take place. A corporation’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach is deemed as the same as actual intent.

Complicity between two parties is also established via close proximity. Close proximity can mean geographic closeness and the duration, frequency, intensity and/or nature of the connection. There is also complicity when a company or its officials exercise such authority over the principal perpetrator/s, such that their silent presence is deemed as approval and moral encouragement to commit abuses. Ordinary business transactions where corporations receive economic benefits can also establish liability if the circumstances surrounding the transaction have enabled, exacerbated or facilitated specific human rights abuses.

Clearly, the Defendant TNCs are liable, directly and through complicity, for innumerable human rights violations that have been committed with utmost impunity and disregard for humanity. Their lies of “feeding the world” cannot hold sway any longer after the Food Crisis in 2008/2009 when the number of hungry people rose to over a billion, after almost five decades of the Green Revolution and two decades of the Gene Revolution.

In this light, the PPT will now rise up to the challenge of hearing the stories and addressing the demands of the many victims and survivors of violations by the Defendants. PAN welcomes the support of any individual, organization, or institution that is willing to be part of this remarkable quest for justice, as part of the continuing people’s struggles against corporate injustice and greed. Please sign on to show your support and solidarity for this people’s tribunal, the PPT, for corporate accountability, and for justice!

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