IEH - Ethical Trading Initiative Norway

The Price of Childhood (cotton seed industry)

The principal aim of this study is to examine whether or not the procurement price policy of the seed companies has any relationship with the widespread use of child labour in hybrid cottonseed production in Andhra Pradesh, India.

India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN) / ILRF

The issue of child labour in hybrid cottonseed production in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India has recently received attention from national and international media, government, Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs), social investor groups, international agencies like ILO/IPEC, UNICEF and UNDP and the seed industry. The uniqueness of the child labour problem in hybrid cottonseed production is that the majority of workers in this sector are children, particularly girls. No other industry in India has such a high proportion of child labour in its workforce. The exploitation of child labour in this industry is linked to larger market forces. Children are employed on a long-term contract basis through advances and loans extended to their parents by local seed farmers. These farmers, in turn, have agreements with seed companies (local, national and trans-national) who produce and market hybrid cotton seeds.

Farmers employ children, particularly girls, primarily in order to minimize costs. Earlier studies by these authors which examined reasons for child labour in this industry found that labour costs account for about 50% of total cultivation costs.  Farmers also hire children in preference to adults because farmers can squeeze out higher productivity from children per day: children will work longer hours, will work much more intensively and they are generally much easier to control than adult workers.


Procurement price policy is an important contributing factor for large-scale employment of child labour in the cottonseed sector. Unless this issue is addressed other interventions to address the problem of child labour in this sector will not be very effective. To finance the total replacement of child labour in the cottonseed sector, at least a 12% rise in procurement price is needed if wages are to be on par with local market wages and thereby attract adult workers.