Six largest agrochemical TNCs stand trial for human rights violations

By Bhavani Prakash
A historic tribunal, the Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) was held in Bangalore, India from 3rd to 6th December, 2011 to indict Agrochemical Transnationals (TNCs) for gross violations of human rights.

Here is the trailer to the Tribunal:

Video link here

Victims and survivors of the pesticide industry from all over the world were represented by PAN International. Pesticide Action Network (PAN) is a network of over 600 participating nongovernmental organizations, institutions and individuals in over 90 countries working to replace the use of hazardous pesticides with ecologically sound and socially just alternatives.
Pesticide Action Network (PAN) testified before a distinguished international jury to indict the “Big 6″ for human rights violations. These include the world’s six largest agrochemical companies, namely Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, Dow Chemical, DuPont and BASF.
The Permanent People’s Tribunal or PPT, founded in 1979 in Italy, is an international opinion tribunal that studies complaints of human rights violations. Using a conventional court format, the PPT has held 37 sessions so far. Even thought its verdicts are not legally binding, these can set precedent for future legal actions against Defendants, as well as pressure governments and institutions.

“Based on evidence presented before it, the Tribunal found the Defendant agrochemical TNCs “responsible for gross, widespread and systematic violations of the right to health and life, economic, social and cultural rights, as well as of civil and political rights, and women and children’s rights.“ (see the verdict here)


The Tribunal also found agrochemical TNCs responsible for violation of indigenous peoples’ human rights, and further found that “their systematic acts of corporate governance have caused avoidable catastrophic risks, increasing the prospects of extinction of biodiversity, including species whose continued existence is necessary for reproduction of human life.”


Shalini Bhutani, a Delhi based lawyer working on issues of trade, agriculture, and biodiversity spoke to EWTT about her involvement in the tribunal.

EWTT:  What is your role in in Pesticide Action Network (PAN)

Bhutani: I’ve been interacting with Pesticide Action Network Asia Pacific (PAN AP) even while I was the Regional Programme Officer with GRAIN in Asia. But after moving on from GRAIN, since early 2011 amongst other things I’ve been part-time consultant with PAN AP.

EWTT: What was your role in the Tribunal?

Bhutani: Over the last one year, I have pitched into the drafting of the indictment. And on site, out of the 19 who gave testimony before the Tribunal, I was one of the four technical witnesses. My submission was specifically on the issue of Intellectual Property (IP) and how modern-day IP rules influenced by transnational corporations are tilted in their favour. IP rules have become tools for the TNCs by which to extend their control from seeds, breeds and living matter to agricultural chemicals and medicines. My presentation placed on record the worldwide trends in IP law and policy, including tighter IPR policing pushed for by the TNCs. The complicity of governments in this is a matter of deep concern. The inputs also highlighted the implications for wisdom cultures and local communities when traditional knowledge and biological resources are privatised.

EWTT: What are your thoughts and feelings on the tribunal and the verdict?

Bhutani: One is fully aware that the Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) is an opinion tribunal. But its findings and recommendations add to the growing body of evidence against TNCs and corporate control. This can be used to put pressure on the global community to act. It can also be ‘educating’ to those who are not fully aware of the problems people have with the 6 big TNCs — BASF, Bayer, Dow, DuPont, Monsanto and Syngenta, for their products, practices and policies. The event must be seen in the light of the call by peoples across the globe for cutting the corporations to size. It is also an urgent call to overhaul our food and farming systems and to draw attention to the real ‘alternatives’ that people’s agriculture does have!

The jury members heeded that call. They were all highly reputed peoples from across diverse fields such as law, science, economy and philosophy, known both for their professional expertise and for their personal integrity. The Tribunal in fact went beyond what the indictment asked for, in terms of indicting the host governments as well.

As regards feelings, it was overwhelming to be in the room when the jury members read out parts of their opinion. Many eyes were moistened in the gathering. You have to imagine what it feels like after years of working on this when someone says the words that you so want to hear. Of course people are real enough about their expectations from the event. Yet at least it has re-energised those working on this issue.

The international solidarity throughout the process has also been heart-warming. Not only the event but the process of its preparation got many peoples from across countries together. It is a reminder of the fact that despite the borders that divide peoples, how connected we all are. Particularly when it comes to such urgent issues as food, life and agricultures.

EWTT: Looking ahead, what’s going to happen with the verdict?

Bhutani: The verdict is a step forward in an ongoing people’s struggle for corporate accountability. Though it will have to be taken to several fora, both at the global and domestic level. After the PPT session on Industrial Hazards and Human Rights in Bhopal, 1992, the “Charter on Industrial Hazards and Human Rights” was adopted in 1996.

EWTT: What message would you like to pass to our readers?

Bhutani: Food is at the centre of our cultures. We all have to be more involved in it, and not just selfishly for our own survival. For food production is not only about our food producers but about the fate of our planet. Even at a personal level, in making choices of where one buys food from or sources it for the family, people can be part of change.



(Bangalore, 3-6 December 2011)

(Final Verdict will be published soon)

1. History, legitimacy and procedures of the Permanent People’s Tribunal

This session of the Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) completes a long process of investigation started in July 2008, when representatives of the Pesticides Action Network (PAN) presented a request of intervention in order to investigate how and in which terms the activities of the transnational agrochemical corporations cause “massive death, terrible harm to health, plunder of the environment and destruction of ecological balance and biodiversity” (letter of request). Due to the impossibility for the victims and survivors to have effective recourse to legal avenue for justice, compensation and remediation, the PPT decided to hold the session in Bangalore, from 3rd to 6th December 2011, after two years of intense work of gathering and documenting cases.

 The significance and framework of reference for this ruling can be more readily understood if we first refer to the intellectual and field-based experiences accumulated by the Tribunal in its 37 Sessions developed over thirty years, and through its involvement in the assessment of the risks of industrial activities on human and environmental rights. The main themes of the request presented by PAN had been since long, and in different contexts, among those which have been treated in many of the previous Sessions of the PPT, as the case of Bophal. In the two Sessions held in 1991 in Bhophal and in 1995 in London.

Over 3 days of public hearings, the PPT was presented with technical reports and individual testimonies on the many themes which had been submitted to its attention: the spectrum of violations of human rights by the different actors (TNCs, States, International Agencies); the threat to food sovereignty; the health implications of the failure to control dangerous pesticides (and their obsolete stock); the many complicities between TNCs, States and their official, scientific community; the violation of the rights of women and children; the qualification of the facts with the respect to the international low convention, treaties, instruments.

The jury was composed of the following members: Upendra Baxi (India), who acted as the President of the Jury; Elmar Altvater (Germany); Ibrahima Ly (Senegal); Ricarda Steinbrecher (Germany); Gianni Tognoni (Italy).

Based on the wealth and on the robustness of the documentations and the testimonies, the jury has reached the following conclusion, whose detailed motivations have been drafted in a provisional form and will become fully available in their final formulation over the next few weeks in the web page of the PPT and of the PAN.

2. Findings

The Tribunal makes the following declaration of responsibility for the six indicted MNCs and three Governments in particular and further also declares the responsibilities of all States, international organizations, UN Specialist Agencies, all other institutions of global governance.


  • The Tribunal finds on all evidence presented before it the six MNCs responsible for gross, widespread and systematic violations of the right to health and life, economic, social and cultural rights, as well as of civil and political rights, and women and childrens’ rights.
  • The Tribunal also finds these corporations responsible for their systematic conduct resulting in violation of indigenous peoples’ human rights and other entitlements.
  • The Tribunal further finds that their systematic acts of corporate governance have caused avoidable catastrophic risks, increasing the prospects of extinction of biodiversity, including species whose continued existence is necessary for reproduction of human life.


The United States of America (USA), the Swiss Confederation (Switzerland) and the Federal Republic of Germany (Germany) have failed to comply with their internationally accepted responsibility to promote and protect human rights, especially of vulnerable populations and their specific customary and treaty obligations in the sphere of environment protection in the following ways:

  • The three States, where six corporations are registered and headquartered, have failed to adequately regulate, monitor and discipline these entities by national laws and policy;
  • The concerned States have not as fully respected human rights and social movement citizens protests against human rights violation in the moves towards a Second Green Revolution, not having learnt the lesson of the First.

The concerned States have unjustifiably promoted a double standard approach prohibiting the production of hazardous chemicals at home while allowing their own MNCs and unrestrained license for this enterprises in other States, especially of the Global South.


  • The Tribunal finds that for technology-importing States (the Host States) there is no justification for any pursuit of accelerated economic development which puts at grave and sustained long-term risk both for the natural resources and the affected populations. The global South States have a remarkable record in preventing for example an ever more expansive regulatory presence of the WTO and in their authorship (and further development) of the UN Declaration on the Right to Development.

The magic carpet type hospitality offered to hazardous MNCs sits in complete contrast with its otherwise progressive international leadership in some global arenas. In particular, the Tribunal finds the Host States fully responsible for:

  • Not adequately protecting human rights and social movement activists from vexation and harassment.
  • Not adequately protecting independent scientists who on serious scientific research demonstrate severe future risks inherent to the development and distribution of chemical substances and process.
  • Not taking all necessary steps to limit the global corporate ownership of knowledge production in universities and related research sites and not recognizing the value of ingenious knowledge and social relationships they create and sustain.
  • Not fully pursuing alternative and less hazardous forms of agricultural production without having learnt the full lessons from the First Green Revolution.


The Tribunal finds that:

  • Some of the policies especially of the WHO, FAO and ILO are not fully responsive to the urgency of regulation and redress, as articulated by suffering peoples, and human rights and social movement activist groups and associations. A more proactive role is especially indicated in the field of hazardous agrochemical and agribusiness MNCs. Further, the UNESCO ought to take expeditious and effective steps for protection of academic and scientific freedom of researchers and specialists who raise justifiable alarm over the long term impact of pesticides, herbicides, and other products.


The Tribunal finds that:

  • The policies of WTO in relation to Intellectual Property Rights, especially the hard regime of patent, protection is not balanced with any sincere regard for the grave long-term hazards to humans and nature already posed by the activities of agribusiness and agrochemical industries.
  • The international financial institutions have yet to develop policies concerning their support for hazardous manufacture, application, or process: it is not entirely clear to us why a strict regime of human rights conditionalities is as yet not contemplated in this regard.
  • Institutions of global governance ought to play a more proactive role in protecting human rights and social movement activists from vexation and harassment, and more responsive to task of regulation and redress as articulated by suffering peoples, and human rights and social movement activist groups and associations.

3. Recommendations

The Tribunal recommends:


  • to prosecute the [defendant, accused] agrochemical companies in terms of criminal liability rather than civil liability.
  • to take action to restructure international law so as to make the agrochemical corporations accountable for their activity and products.
  • to accept a less heavy burden of proof on the victims and to fully commit to and legislate for the precautionary principle.
  • to prevent TNCs from directly or indirectly harassing and intimidating scientists, farmers and human rights and environmental defenders, in any form, including judicial harassment.


  • to subordinate the assignment and the keeping/maintaining/continuation of a patent to the respect and upholding of human rights and the welfare of the populations. This includes the protection of biodiversity and ecosystems.


  • to be fully aware of conflict of interest.
  • to respect information as a public good.

Support the tribunal. Sign the petition here

For more information, kindly the PAN website

Contact PAN through Inquiry or Media

Join PAN Asia Pacific on Facebook and Twitter 

Further links you may be interested in:

Grist: Pesticides on Trial [Video]

Times of India : Pesticide victims seek justice

ENews Park Forest: ‘Big 6′ Guilty of Human Rights Violations 


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Posted by on Dec 10 2011. Filed under Chemicals, Sustainable Agriculture/GMO/Organic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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