Complaint filed against Syngenta over pesticide sales in India

Commercialised in 1991, the insecticide was banned in the European Union in 2002, and subsequently in Switzerland in 2009. © Keystone / Gaetan Bally

Swiss NGO Public Eye has triggered an arbitration process seeking to stop sales of Syngenta’s Polo pesticide in India and to ensure affected farmers are compensated for lost income.   

This content was published on September 18, 2020 - 14:01

The so-called “specific instance” was filed with the Swiss national contact point of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Bern on Thursday. Syngenta’s Polo insecticide is used to control white flies in cotton and contains the chemical diafenthiuron. Commercialised in 1991, the insecticide was banned in the European Union in 2002, and subsequently in Switzerland in 2009. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) states that diafenthiuron is “toxic if inhaled” and can “cause damage to organs through prolonged or repeated exposure”. 

In 2017, Syngenta exported more than 126 tonnes of Polo insecticide from Switzerland: 75 tonnes to India, 50 tonnes to South Africa, and 1.5 tonnes to Colombia. In 2018, Public Eye published the results of investigation into the impact of Polo on farmers in the Yavatmal district in western India.  

Public Eye - along with other groups like the Indian Pesticide Action Networks of India and Asia Pacific, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) in Berlin – filed the complaint on behalf of 51 farmers that used Polo between September to October 2017 and suffered from adverse symptoms. They want the affected farmers to be compensated financially and for Syngenta to stop the sale of Polo to Indian farmers and recall existing stock.  

The Swiss national contact point (NCP) has no punitive powers and can only help bring both parties to the table to start a discussion in Switzerland. Still, many affected communities have made use of the Swiss NCP to obtain a meeting with company decision-makers.  

However, in a separate campaign, a farmer who nearly died and two widows have recently filed a legal demand for compensation in the Basel court, where Syngenta is located, based on product liability. The statute of limitations for filing such a case is three years which prompted the decision. 

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