UN Experts fail to deliver assessment of Bayer and Syngenta compliance with the International Code of Conduct on Pesticide Management

In 2015 Public Eye, ECCHR and their partners submitted a report to FAO and WHO providing evidence that Syngenta and Bayer were violating the International Code of Conduct on Pesticide Management when distributing highly hazardous pesticides in Punjab, India. The report was discussed during the Joint Meeting on Pesticides Management (JMPM) held in New Dehli on April 2017. The meeting concluded with the JMPM only taking note of the report and failing to assess compliance of Syngenta and Bayer with the Code. Without improvements the FAO/WHO monitoring procedure is on its way to become meaningless.

The Ad-Hoc Monitoring Report (the “Report”) submitted to the FAO and WHO by Public Eye, ECCHR and their partners was based on evidence from farmers in Punjab and revealed that companies Bayer and Syngenta sell hazardous pesticides but fail to ensure that farmers are adequately informed about the dangers of the products or the necessary protective measures. It also questioned whether the pesticides companies do enough to monitor their business practices and their consequences for human health and the environment. The International Code of Conduct on Pesticide Management (the "Code") is the only global instrument for the management of pesticides and the Report is illustrative of an endemic problem in many countries that is not being adequately addressed.

During the survey conducted for the Report, 32 farmers in nine villages of Punjab (India) were interviewed about their understanding of the pictograms and safety information on the labels of six pesticides, their access to and use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and any training they had undergone.

The survey results suggested that: the labels lack essential information to be provided according to the Code and the Labelling Guidelines; and adequate training of company representatives and users, as well as access to PPE in local markets is still lacking - the use of PPE was witnessed in only two instances. The interviews further suggested that company representatives at various levels are aware of these apparent violations ongoing in Punjab.

The Report was submitted in September 2015 and considered by a Panel of Experts at the FAO/WHO Joint Meeting on Pesticides Management (JMPM) in April 2017 at its 10th meeting in New Delhi. In November 2017, the FAO and WHO finally published their recommendations. As the Ad Hoc Monitoring mechanism had only been used three times since its inception in 2007, the Report thus offered the JMPM a unique chance to push for fuller adherence to the Code.

The JMPM, however, failed to assess the companies’ compliance with the Code. It only took note of the Report. Specific recommendations for business behavior are entirely missing. Even though article 12.6 requires to “give full support to the observance of the Code,” the FAO and WHO only encourage “further multi-stakeholder dialogue” and “monitoring of the Code”. The JMPM failed to deliver any concrete outcomes. Worryingly, the lack of specific recommendations allows the business practices identified in the Report to continue and the effort by Punjabi farmers to raise their concerns has no consequences in practice.

In an open letter supported by several organizations, Public Eye, ECCHR and the other partners that submitted the Report denounce this failure by the JMPM to deliver assessment of Bayer and Syngenta compliance with the Code and highlight some urgent recommendations so that the ad-hoc monitoring procedure does not become meaningless.