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Round Table for Combating Child Labour in Hybrid Seed Industry

Organized by: M.V. Foundation (MVF), 19-2-2011, Hyderabad.

MVF is known for prevention of Child labour in various sectors. Since two years, AOFG India and MVF are working for its implementation of a child labour free hybrid cotton seed project -though not in an official way. Participants for teh roundtable were; Dr. Davuluri Venkateswarlu (Glocal Research), Dr.G.Venkat Raman (AOFG India), Dr. Donti Narsimha Reddy(Chetana Society), Ms.Sudha Mullapudi (Traid craft),  Mr. Murali ( UNICEF), Narsimha Reddy ( CARE), Mr.Anjaiah (NGO), Mr. Srinavas rao ( Child Rights Forum, Chairman) and other NGO representatives.

Mr. Venkat Reddy, National Convener, MVF, gave a presentation about the need to lobby the seed industry who are meeting on 22 and 23 February in Hyderabad.

Dr. Davuluri Venkateswarlu presented how child labour in hybrid seed industry has been shifted to Gujarat state, labour force involved in cotton seed fields, wage disparities, work hours, impact on health and education.

Dr. Narsimha Reddy shared his opinion on legal procedures and stressed the importance of the upcoming seed bill-2010. He circulated a draft copy of the bill.

Mr. Murali (UNICEF) expressed that, it is very difficult to tackle the powerful seed companies. The best way is to use the benefits of Right for Education act. But it is not yet finalized. Once it is in operation, every child should be in the school.  There are many contradicting opinions on this act; children are on roll while going to fields, parents to be educated, seed companies should have a self regulatory mechanism.

One interesting point raised is that wherever child labour prevention protests and welfare activities are going on, Govt. education schemes are implemented, there is decrease in child labour, but the seed production activities are shifted to remote tribal areas. Another great change in seed production activities is that, earlier seed production was done in large acreage with big farmers, but now it has been shifted to small family based farms.

From AOFG India cotton Project we are promoting organic cotton to ethical and fair trade brands, for which we need to maintain child labour free conditions across ALL the value chain. The seed used by our organic farmers is produced by commercial seed companies, by using child labour. All organic farmer groups require Child labour free hybrid cotton seed, and to meet this demand, we have initiated a project on seed production. We are also collecting data of existing child labour in our organic villages for their welfare and education. In a recently held workshop, our farmer leaders have taken a decision to allocate some Fair trade premium for child labour welfare activities.

The round table has decided to represent AP Government to consider following demands;

  • implement strictly Right to Education act,
  • amend child labour prevention act-1986,
  • file cases against seed companies who are indulging in child labour,
  • collect data of below 18 years age children,
  • rehabilitate the working children with bridge schools.

Round table made a resolution that this meeting should form as a forum and write a letter to seed companies to prevent child labour. Mr. Venkat Reddy has presented round table deliberations before Prof. C. Nageswar. He made an assurance that he would raise this issue in question hour of Andhra Pradesh Assembly, requesting to allocate one day for discussion.  Further he ascertained that we need to organize rally with child labour in Hyderabad.

The round table also formed a delegation to visit the Indian Seed congress, where all seed company people are meeting Seed companies should take a policy decision not to take child labour in seed fields. The same policy should be applied to seed organizers and sub-contractors. They should be in a committee at village level with Gram Sarpanch, civil servants, community based organizations, child rights activists. Seed companies should disclose list of labour working in their fields by indicating, age, sex, education background.

On 22nd February, 2011 the delegation lead by, M.V. Foundation has given a letter to India seed Congress, Hyderabad. The seed congress is opened by Andhra Pradesh Governor, Sri E.L. Narsimhan, presided over by Agriculture minister, Vivekananda Reddy.

The same delegation will meet again at appropriate time to take necessary steps to combat child labour in seed fields. For more information contact:

Mrs. Miratai Sunil Rao Deshmukh hails from Khed village of Morshi taluk of Amravati district, Vidharba region of Maharashtra in India. She is president of Om Adarsh Sendriya Shetkari Sanstha (Organic Farmer Group) which has a robust savings of Rs.1.57 lakhs, used as loan for the immediate needs of the group members.  Miratai also prepares and sells noodles to supplement her family income.

Her family owns 4 acres of rain fed land. She is inspirational to her fellow women members, and has been sincere in using only natural manure and preparing bio-pests to protect her cotton fields. She has been nominated as the best women organic farmer in Amravati region for her outstanding leadership qualities.

Textile Exchange, previously known as Organic Exchange featured Zameen in their annual fibre report.

Some of the salient news in the report:

  • India’s organic cotton production has more than doubled in two seasons from 75,000 MT in ’07-08 to almost 200,000 MT of lint fibre in ’09-10.
  • India now produces 80% of the global total organic cotton fibre.
  • Almost 70% of this is grown in one state: Madhya Pradesh…
  • India’s conventional cotton is almost 90 % genetically modified. Hence the risk of contamination is huge.
  • The govt body overseeign certification (APEDA) has forced projects to use an online system called “Tracenet” and fixed a maximum group size of not more than 500 farmers per ICS (Internal Control System) group to increase traceability.

India will continue to be a key player in organic cotton production in the context of being a country with the largest acreage potential, and a significant number of dedicated organic farming communities. This combined with an enviable production capability for a wide spectrum of textiles contributes to making India a “one stop destination” for brands.

The report’s recommendations for the organic cotton community include:

  • • Continue strengthening integrity in production, processing and certification;
  • • Further develop tools to measure impact through environmental, social and economic indicators;
  • • Promote and communicate best practice in responsible value chains;
  • • Understand how other financial models such as Fairtrade and rural financing models in other commodity sectors such as coffee might work for organic supply chains.

If you want to know more, please write us an Email:

In an IIM Bangalore Business & Development roundtable Zameen co-founder Gijs spoke about systems thinking and social enterprise. Read the IIMB review the article here.

And if you want the pdf file, please write to us.


At Zameen we have built a model to mainstream sustainability that should work across continents and across commodities. To test whether this is really true we are keen to learn about similar experiences in Africa and Latin America. If you see anything happening which looks like what we’re doing PLEASE let us know!

One of the networks where many likeminded “triple bottom line” enterpreneurs exchange notes is Progreso Network and there is a wealth of field guides and videos for everyone who is serious baout working alongside smallscale farmers to conquer the world: see these videos.

Zameen recently won an award which allowed us to make a 10 min video about our model for market access to share with other Fairtrade producer organisations worldwide. It includes interviews with our favourite UK brands like Pants to Poverty, EPONA and House of Tammam, footage of the GSM Ethical Fashion Forum event in London and a brief summary of how we think pro poor trade can work:

1 mobilise smallholder farmers

2 find a suppluy chain to process your raw material into fashion

3 find people who can help sell your product

4 trial orders with brands

5 deepen relations with brands to achieve mutual win win

The film is almost ready so watch this space!!


Sometimes we do hear about the big world even though we’re working in remote villages dealing with issues such as late monsoons, early pests, quality control of composts and cotton fibre.

Recently we learned about the Ethical Fashion Forum putting up a blog on the site of leading fashion magazine Drapers:

THIS IS GREAT news !! Well done EFF.

Zameen also managed to convince the mainstream media to pay attention – or rather the Ashoka Foundation put them on to us. This was in the social enterprise special of India’s leading OUTLOOK magazine.

outlook Gijs photoIt seems sustainable textiles is becoming mainstream which is good news for farmers and factory workers worldwide.

Now that the sector is growing it is time to bring in some clarity. A Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) section of the movement if you will. Till now anyone who did anything green and fair was a pioneer. No longer… More about “what to do” in the next blog entry.

Meanwhile, sit back, relax and stay true to the cause


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Shop for Change Fair Trade (SFC) was set up by IRFT and Traidcraft to launch a new Fair Trade label for the Indian domestic market.  SFC invited Zameen and other producer organisations to contribute to the consultation process around communication and I travelled to Mumbai last week to share Zameen’s thoughts on messaging. SFC introduced the new label and their excellent PR agency LinOpinion, which will be working closely with SFC over the coming years The new Shop for Change logo

The certification mark will look different from the internationally recognised FAIRTRADE Mark, just as the standards differ from FLO’s (they are more tailored to the specific needs of Indian producers and artisans).  There is little doubt that India’s so-called burgeoning middle class is now fully fledged, but is India ready to embrace Fair Trade?

There was some discussion about the difficulty of persuading a famously sceptical nation about a new and challenging concept.  Everyone agreed that we shouldn’t shy away from the core messaging of Fair Trade, but meet this challenge head on.  I was encouraged by the presentation by IRFT as they have received positive responses to their initial promotional work around Shop for Change.  IRFT produced a fantastic film to introduce the concept of Fair Trade to Indian audiences, which was shown free of charge in cinemas in India.  This reminded me of my experience at the Fairtrade Foundation in the UK; despite how big it’s grown, it still gets freebees and is pushed forward by volunteer power because once people get it, they tend to support it.

Paul, Zameen Comms Manager

One of our key partners, Pants to Poverty, spearheaded a campaign to ban endosulfan, a particularly nasty and unnecessary pesticide.  Bringing together international celebrities, textile workers and farmers, consumers and organisations like Pesticide Action Network and Organic Exchange, the group set its targets on the Bayer Group and the Indian Government.  Both profit from endosulfan’s production in the developing world, though it is banned in 62 countries (including the EU).

As all Zameen farmers are pesticide-free and have seen their own health improving, they were very interested when we told them about the campaign and wanted to know how they could contribute. I talked about the campaign actions taking place around the world and together we drafted a letter to a broadsheet in the UK. I also agreed to visit them in the field to spread the word amongst more farmers.  I went to Amravati in Maharashtra, bringing together a group of 75 farmers to take part in their own ‘bad pants amnesty’ at the same time as others taking place across the world on 7 July 2009.

Farmers get together to post their pants to Bayer

Farmers get together to post their pants to Bayer

Sandip Kuthe, a farmer who features in Zameen’s case study on pesticide free farming practices, had suffered terrible burns when spraying his cotton after his backpack split open.  Sandip is also something of a star, acting in local plays.  I explained that Pants to Poverty wanted to commission a farmer teaser to add to their collection of video virals for their Panteater campaign and he jumped at the chance – quite literally jumped out of his seat!  The Panteater is a mythical beast which evolved from eating ‘bad pants’ grown with pesticides (the average pair of non-organic pants contains 10ml of pesticides).  I shot the film with him and another farmer, Ashish Mahalle, with Sandip adding fantastic adlibs!  I think it’s great that he used his own artistic expression to hit back at the big boys who have scarred him with chemical burns.

The best bit is that the farmer won!  Bayer announced the following week that it would phase out endosulfan over the next 18 months.  Great result, but now all our attentions are focused on the Indian Government, which uses its weight to prevent a global ban, whilst also being a manufacturer of endosulfan!  The fight continues…

Paul, Zameen’s Comms Manager

Moving to India was a big decision, but after a fine send off from my friends at the Fairtrade Foundation where I worked in the Press Office for almost two years, I was more than curious to see how Fairtrade works on the ground.

I’m joining Zameen at an exciting time, with new staff (including myself as Zameen’s first Communications Manager and a new Cotton General Manager role), brand new offices shared with AOFG (Zameen’s sister NGO) for closer working, and a new internship programme bringing in skills and talent from the Netherlands to Vietnam!  There’s also a total revamp of Zameen’s image underway, with a new logo and rebranding exercise.

My first few weeks have been non-stop!  Some of the highlights so far include meeting with TransFair USA to talk about the development of Fairtrade garment standards for the US market (currently no Fairtrade cotton is sold in the US) and travelling to Indore in North India to learn about Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) from Organic Exchange. KPIs can help us demonstrate the social and environmental benefits of organic farming and also help the farmers track their progress and be aware of areas that need improvement.

I have also been to the field to take photos of the sowing season and met the newly elected members of the Producer Executive Body (PEB) in Hyderabad.  The PEB oversees investment of the Fairtrade premium money and they came together to learn book keeping skills and Fairtrade Labelling Organisation (FLO) standards for certified farming organisations.


Newly elected farmer leaders learn about FLO standards

There’s lots more still ahead, with a website relaunch, media work and the farmers’ AGM in the pipeline – so watch this space!

Paul, Zameen Comms Manager

Zameen is a unique farmer-owned Fairtrade and organic cotton trading company working to improve market access for marginalised farmers in India through certification, supply chain partnerships and organisational development.  Fields of Dreams is your behind the scenes peek at how we work with farmers to shape Zameen’s direction and get more of the value locked in your clothes back to the farmers.

All Zameen farmers are Fairtrade certified, which guarantees a stable minimum price and a social premium (an additional sum) which is democratically invested in projects that benefit the whole community.  With Fairtrade, there is no exploitation or child labour, there is empowerment and movement towards gender equality.

Zameen farms are pesticide-free and are either organic certified or in organic conversion.  This adds value to the farmers’ crops and cuts their input costs in half.  Cutting out agrochemicals also improves farmer health and soil quality, reduces green house gas emissions and helps the local environment.

Zameen chose to set up in Southern India because of the terrible farmer suicide epidemic that has swept across the region fuelled by unmanageable debt.  Zameen farmers do not need to take on loans to buy expensive, dangerous and often ineffective chemicals. They can finally escape the clutches of moneylenders and enjoy dignified, self-sustaining livelihoods.

As shareholders, Zameen farmers make decisions about the direction of their business as well as sharing in the profits.  Follow their journey from small-holders exploited by unfair trade to independent international businesspeople with a mission to clean up the textile trade.

Paul, Zameen Comms Manager