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Beyond the Rows is a Monsanto Company blog focused on one of the world’s most important industries, agriculture. Monsanto employees write about Monsanto’s business, the agriculture industry, and the farmer.
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Continued Progress in Human Rights Policy Implementation

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Producing seeds in more than 40 countries gives us the opportunity to have a positive impact on the lives of a significant number of agricultural workers. To guide our actions, Monsanto adopted our Human Rights Policy in 2006, and began a program to improve the lives of workers in our seed production supply chain, whether they are at our owned facilities or are working for a third party. 

The policy includes commitments on child labor, forced labor, compensation, working hours, harassment and violence, discrimination, freedom of association, occupational safety and legal compliance. We operate on a continuous improvement approach in working with our business partners to address the challenges posed by performing manual agricultural work, especially in developing economies. 

Our priorities are guided by a global risk assessment, which covers each part of the policy in every country where we grow seeds and is updated every three years. In 2011, our scheduled update included adding new countries, reflecting changes in our business practices since 2008 and recent country developments. After reviewing on a country-by-country basis the tendency for human rights risks to exist, we overlaid country-specific operational information to decide where the greatest risks reside. The result is a list of high risk countries where we focus and conduct more detailed assessments of our operations and our supply chain. 

When we talk about our supply chain, we often use the term “business partner.” Generally speaking, a human rights business partner is someone who primarily provides manual labor in the production of seed for Monsanto..

Our specific policy commitments and their implementation merit additional detailed discussion.

India represents the biggest risk area for child labor in our operations and supply chain. Since 2005, we have been working to eliminate child labor in our hybrid cottonseed production there. Three years ago, we also began a program to remove child laborers from our business partners’ vegetable seed fields. 

Child labor risks also exist in other countries and Monsanto works to mitigate the risk and remediate occurrences when discovered. In 2011, our breeding site in San Juan de Abajo, Mexico, received the distinctive honor of being recognized as an agricultural company free of child workers by the Secretaria del Trabajo y Previsión Social (STPS) department of the Mexican government. This is the first of our 11 sites in Mexico to receive this distinctive honor and the first company in Nayarit State. 

With regard to forced labor, there are some countries in Africa in which the widely used practice of ‘tenancy agreements’ can result in a forced labor situation for migrant workers. In those countries, we are working with our business partner growers to make sure their workers are free to leave when they wish and will be compensated for their work in total, regardless of when they elect to return to their homes. For the countries where employees’ freedom of association is at risk, we support our employees’ independent decisions and included training on the rights of employees to associate and bargain collectively in our global training. For example, in 2011 in Peru, we successfully negotiated with the union that was recently formed by our seasonal workers. We enjoy good labor relations with all our employee representatives. 

Our ability to identify and remediate issues, and to act in compliance with our policy globally, is dependent upon the understanding and commitment of every employee to uphold our values and commitments. To enhance this understanding, we have provided human rights computer-based employee training modules at 18 month intervals. These training modules review sections of the policy in a story format, and conclude with a quiz. Every full-time employee is required to take this training, and pass the quiz with a score of 100 percent. In 2011, we launched our third training module since the policy was adopted, and 98.8 percent of employees completed it. This represented 9,562 hours of training. Our global security organization was included in this training and achieved a 99 percent completion rate, for a total of 60 hours. 

Employees can voice a concern confidentially or anonymously with the Monsanto Business Conduct Office and can use a variety of methods to do so, including telephonically, through a toll-free dedicated telephone system, company email, or the internet. In 2011, two discrimination allegations were filed with Business Conduct. The allegations were investigated by an independent review team chaired by our Business Conduct Office and resolved. 

Throughout our seed supply chain, we have adopted several practices designed to help our business partners understand and act in accordance with our policy. In our direct contracts with them, we include contract language regarding human rights. By signing the contract, they indicate they have read and understood the Policy and agree to act in compliance with applicable labor laws. In 2011, more than 17,800 contracts included this clause or 96 percent of direct seed grower contracts. (Many of our growers contract with “Seed Coordinators,” who then contract directly with us.) 

A second practice we use with our growers is to assess their compliance via a 22-question screening assessment which we call our Red Flag Assessment. We have a rotating schedule to assess a portion of our business partner growers in countries according to the risk level identified for the country. In 2011, we conducted 37,880 assessments, the majority of which were in India and Africa. The company process requires immediate action to investigate an affirmative Red Flag finding and remediate as necessary. 

Our work around the world is spearheaded by our Human Rights Champions Network. The Champions have the responsibility to heighten awareness of human rights issues, and work to resolve them in their geography. They receive special training to enable them to identify gaps in auditing and compliance with our policy and risks of non-compliance, and they work within the organization to remediate issues as expeditiously as possible. They also serve as contacts in the regions for anyone with a question or concern about human rights.  

This article is excerpted from Monsanto’s 2011 Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability Report. The full report can be found at Monsanto.com.

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