Photo: Rice is the staple food in many Asian countries. Weed killers containing Glyphosate are used in rice cultivation too. UN IARC claims Glyphosate as a substance capable of causing disease in living tissue. Credit: - Photo: 2018

Rounding Up Coca-Colonization – Will the UN Human Rights Council Stand Up For The People?

By Jayasri Priyalal

The writer is the Regional Director responsible for Finance Sector of UNI Global Union, Asia & Pacific Organization – Singapore.

SINGAPORE (IDN) – Regulatory capture and the influence of powerful Transnational Corporations in lobbying the policy makers towards their own advantage is no secret. Putting profits before people and planet is their ordinary course of business.

Now that the first draft of a legally binding treaty in International Human Rights Law has been submitted to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) will they have the courage to stand up for the people against powerful transnational corporations [TNC]?  

The draft was submitted on July 16, 2018 to UNHRC and it should be in the agenda of the ongoing thrice yearly meting of the council.

On the August 10, 2018, a jury in Superior Court of California, San Francisco has given a groundbreaking verdict by awarding US$ 290 million as compensation payable by Monsanto Corporation to DeWayne Johnson (46) groundskeeper dying of cancer. Jurors took into consideration failure of Monsanto Corp producers of weed killer Round UP – which contain its main chemical ingredient Glyphosate – to warn Johnson and other users about the possibility of cancer creating properties that are used in its weed-killing herbicide.

Bayer, the German chemical company which now owns Monsanto Corp, has gone to media and stresses that their chemicals including Round-Up are not harmful to users and is planning to appeal against the verdict given by the jury in California.

Methyl Isocyanate leak in the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal, India in 1984 killed almost 3787 lives. The government of India estimates that the total causalities of the tragedy are around 15,000 human beings plus livestock. Toxic material remains, even after 30 years later, many of those who were exposed to the gas have given birth to physically and mentally disabled children.

Business and Human Rights Resource Centre website report, still a sum approximately to the tune of US$ 330 million yet to be distributed to the victims to date, out of the Indian Supreme Court approved the settlement as compensation payment of US$ 470 million in 1989.

In an interview after the California judgement, a senior official of Monsanto reveals that there are over 800 scientific researches done and which confirms that Glyphosate does not create cancer and it is safe to use. Quite the contrary the World Health Organization (WHO) warns that Glyphosate may cause cancer amongst the users of the herbicide. But, the USA and EU do not subscribe to WHO warnings.

UN’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declared in March 2015 that glyphosate probably raises the risk of cancer in people exposed. Accordingly, UN IARC claims Glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen; a substance capable of causing disease in living tissue.

At the 26th session of the UNHRC, in July 2014, a resolution was adopted for the introduction of a legally binding instrument on TNC and Other Business Enterprises (OBE) with respect of human rights.

The main focus of the proposed treaty was emphasizing that TNCs and OBEs have a responsibility to respect human rights, and civil society actors have a significant and legitimate role in promoting corporate social responsibility and in preventing, mitigating and seeking remedy for the adverse human rights impacts of TNC’s and OBEs.

What is interesting to note is; the original resolution put forward by Ecuador in 2014 was adopted after a vote 20 in favour, 14 voting against? Many human rights champion nations such as France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the UK and the USA voted against the motion. In spite of their objections, the resolution was passed with the support of countries including China, India, Indonesia, Russia, South Africa and Vietnam.

It is well known that scientific research can prove and provide answers to numerous how, what, when and where questions are explaining causes and effects scientifically depending on how the research questions are framed. But science has serious limitation to give a credible explanation to the natures why matter accurately.

Rice is the staple food in many Asian countries, and it is grown in marshy land and regularly irrigated through a multitude of sources. Monsanto Corporation introduced Round-Up in 1974; the key ingredient of the weedicide Glyphosate kills weeds by blocking proteins essential to plant growth. It is extensively used in Tea and Rubber plantations in many countries such as Sri Lanka.

Rainwater can wash away Glyphosate sediments of – the main ingredient of Round UP and get contaminated with the water that irrigates the paddy fields in low land areas.  Sri Lanka banned the import of Glyphosate sometime back, and recently the government has lifted the ban amidst heavy criticism by the environmental friendly groups in media.

Farmers in Sri Lanka are grappling with price escalation of synthetic fertilizer, without the usage of fertilizer their crops do not yield to cover the costs, and they are compelled to use increasing quantities degrading the environmental impact. Farmland soil is now addicted to these synthetic fertilizers which are by-products of the petroleum industries another group of powerful TNC lobby. A similar situation may be prevalent in many other rice-growing countries in Asia.  

These cases, which are only a small sample, highlight the trends in holding powerful superior TNCs accountable for actions, which Coca-colonized the consumer markets and behaviours by putting their profits before people and planet. Profit motives and market share of many TNC’s as reported in media supersede sustainable development goals of the marginalized communities.

In this era of acceleration, propelled by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, will Fleas be empowered to trample Elephants?  Charles Handy, in his bestselling book “The Elephant and the Flea” Reflection of Reluctant Capitalist; suggest that this could be a reality. [IDN-InDepthNews – 21 September 2018]

Photo: Rice is the staple food in many Asian countries. Weed killers containing Glyphosate are used in rice cultivation too. UN IARC claims Glyphosate as a substance capable of causing disease in living tissue. Credit:

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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