Global phase-out of endosulfan marks beginning of survivors' quest for justice
Thousands of victims and survivors of endosulfan rejoiced when in April 2011, the Fifth Conference of the Parties of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) finally agreed to put the highly toxic pesticide in the list of banned substances worldwide. Various health, environmental, and public interest groups have lobbied for years to ban endosulfan, an outdated DDT-era pesticide that has caused irreversible harm to human health, wildlife, and the environment.
But, for endosulfan survivors, the global phase-out of endosulfan is just the beginning of their quest for justice. This December, several of them will gather at the Permanent People's Tribunal (PPT) on Agrochemical Transnational Corporations (TNCs) to give testimonies on the effects of endosulfan exposure.
The PPT, a landmark opinion tribunal organised by Pesticide Action Network International, will hear indictments against the six largest agrochemical TNCs-Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, Dow Chemical, DuPont, and BASF-for various human rights violations. Endosulfan survivors from the village of Kasargod, state of Kerala, India, are particularly eager to testify about the impact of endosulfan on their lives and community. Bayer, formerly Hoechst AG, developed endosulfan in the 1950s. Before it claimed to have discontinued endosulfan production in 2007, Bayer was the world's second largest producer of the pesticide, next to the Government of India.
"Bayer cannot be absolved from its liability in selling and promoting a product that has been proven to impair the health of entire communities across the globe. In fact, now that endosulfan is being phased-out, we can focus our efforts on providing justice, relief, and remediation to victims and survivors," said Jayakumar Chelaton of Thanal, a public interest research group based in Kerala.
Effects of endosulfan still hound Kasargod
While the aerial spraying of endosulfan in Kasargod, Kerala was discontinued in 2002, villagers continue to suffer from long-term illnesses. Endosulfan is a pesticide that persists in the environment for a very long time, accumulates in the food chain, and travels long distances. Thus, the effects of endosulfan use are likely to be felt in Kasargod and neighbouring communities for years to come.
"Kasargod today remains one of the most stark examples of the destructive nature of highly hazardous pesticides, and one of the most compelling reasons why agrochemical TNCs should not have been allowed to produce and market these," said Chelaton.
He narrated that children in Kerala who were born with congenital and neurological damage highlight the inter-generational health effects of pesticides, which will be tackled in the PPT as part of the violations of women and children's rights. "Children survivors are doing their best to cope with their disabilities. Many in fact are now grown up and speaking out against endosulfan," he said.
One of these children is Shruthi, now a teenager. Each of Shruthi's hand only has four fingers, and her severely deformed right lower limb was recently amputated. Her mother, who was exposed to endosulfan while pregnant, died of cancer six years ago. For victims and survivors like her, the ban on endosulfan came a bit too little, too late.
Nonetheless, "Shruthi has come to understand that her personal tragedy is related to the tragedy of pesticide poisoning worldwide. And that this tragedy can be overcome through the quest for justice, of which the PPT on Agrochemical TNCs is a significant part," Chelaton said.
The Plantation Corporation of Kerala (PCK) started to spray endosulfan over cashew nut plantations in 1976, causing illnesses and deaths that have been extensively documented by both the Indian government and public interest groups. In 2002, PAN Asia Pacific's fact-finding mission found that in all households visited in Kasargod, "there was more than one member affected with mental retardation, epilepsy, stunted growth, physical deformities, repeated abortions, psychiatric illness, sterility, etc." The state of Kerala officially acknowledges 500 endosulfan-related deaths, while unofficial estimates place the figure at around 1,000.
Through the public distribution service, the State government is providing medical and social relief by way of pension and ration to over 5,000 people. Medical camps were set up through a process wherein people are recommended by medical practitioners for treatment. Patients are continually added after medical screenings and revenue investigations by the State government. Non-government organisations fear that the number of people still suffering from adverse health effects of endosulfan exposure may go up to more than 10,000. The State government is also preparing a full package of compensation and medical and social remediation, after being ordered by the National Human Rights Commission. However, Bayer, endosulfan's manufacturer, has so far has not been made accountable for the widespread poisoning in Kerala.
Poisoning due to endosulfan has also been documented among cotton farmers in Africa, which is described by PAN International among the charges in the PPT against the agrochemical TNCs. . Studies in Togo showed a yearly record of more than 500 poisoning cases related to endosulfan, while surveys in Mali and Senegal revealed endosulfan as the main culprit in poisoning cases in cotton-growing areas, resulting to deaths.
Collusion, key factor in endosulfan use
Chelaton also said that a key factor in the decades of hazardous endosulfan use is the collusion between chemical companies and governments. "This dirty collusion is largely unknown to the public, and needs to be brought to light," he said.
Additionally, the Plantation Corporation of Kerala commissioned the Fredrick Institute of Plant Protection and Toxicology (FIPPAT) to conduct a study on endosulfan in Kasaragod. At a press conference organised by the Pesticide Manufacturers and Formulators Association of India (PMFAI), FIPPAT's report was said to exonerate endosulfan from causing any adverse health effects. However, according to the CSE, which obtained a copy of the original report, high levels of endosulfan residue were found in water and children's blood samples but were not disclosed by FIPPAT. Bayer and Syngenta are members of the PMFAI.
Furthermore, the expert committee appointed by the Central Insecticides Bureau to examine the reports on endosulfan poisoning had as members the heads of Excel and Bayer, both major manufacturers of endosulfan. Not surprisingly, the committee relied on FIPPAT's residue analysis and concluded that there is no link between PCK's endosulfan use and reported health effects in Kasargod. Sri Vijaya Mallaya, Board Chair of Bayer India and member of Parliament, wrote to the Indian Prime Minister and appealed for endosulfan not to be banned.
Meanwhile, in African cotton-growing countries, endosulfan was reintroduced from 1998 to 2000, despite growing evidence that it results to grave human and environmental harm. The reintroduction of endosulfan was due to recommendations made by industry-influenced research institutions and CropLife International, which represents the major agrochemical TNCs.
"Now that the global phase-out of endosulfan is underway, history has absolved us, and indicted all those who ever claimed that the pesticide was safe. Governments and institutions who colluded with agrochemical TNCs are complicit in human rights violations related to endosulfan use, and should be made equally liable," Chelaton said.
The PPT, which traces its roots back to the Vietnam War Tribunals, aims to come up with an effective system for ensuring corporate accountability, in light of the lack or ineffectiveness of existing legal mechanisms for such in the era of corporate globalisation.
Support the tribunal. Sign the petition at
For more information, kindly visit our website: http://www.agricorporateaccountability.net/.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.
Be updated via Facebook (Pan Asia Pacific) or Twitter (PANAsiaPacific).