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Mediation fails to solve dispute over Syngenta insecticide in India

Indian farmers spray crops
NGOs claim that the Polo insecticide has harmed the health of Indian farmers. Syngenta denies the accusation. Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

An attempt to mediate a dispute between crop science company Syngenta and a group of NGOs over the sale of an insecticide in India has acrimoniously collapsed.

Both parties blamed each other for failing to make progress on resolving claims that Syngenta’s Polo insecticide presents a serious health hazard to farmers.

The Swiss pressure group Public Eye was one of five NGOs that triggered the mediation process in 2020. The NGOs contend that 51 Indian farmers have been harmed by Syngenta’s Polo product – a claim that the Basel-based company refutes.

The mediation was conducted by the Swiss National Contact Point (NCP) of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Bern.

But on Thursday arbitrators said talks had collapsed, mainly resulting from disagreements connected to a separate civil action filed with a Basel court.

A farmer from the Yavatmal region of India and the widows of two deceased farm workers have filed compensation claims with the court.

The court case reduced the scope of the mediation process. NCP mediators felt that determining whether the Polo insecticide had poisoned farmers could prejudice these ongoing proceedings.

‘Shortcomings’ and ‘no meaningful dialogue’

Public Eye complained that the failed mediation was a violation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and that its calls to protect the future health of farmers have gone unanswered.

“The NCP procedure as applied in Switzerland today once again demonstrates the shortcomings of this non-judicial mechanism that relies entirely on the goodwill of corporations and falls short of providing remedy for victims of human rights abuses,” the NGO stated.

Syngenta said it regretted there had been “no meaningful dialogue” with NGOs during the arbitration process. The company said its proposals of “constructive, forward-looking measures”, such an audit of its Indian operations and training for farmers, had been ignored as “the NGOs focused solely on retroactive claims for damages”.

“Mediation can have a chance of success only if both parties have a fundamental interest in reaching an amicable solution and do not seek to use the process exclusively for other purposes,” the company added.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR