In an unprecedented action, Latin American organizations denounced Bayer to the OECD for glyphosate-related damages

One of the accusations is the contamination of Avá-Guarani Indigenous individuals in Brazil

Translated by: Ana Paula Rocha

Brasil de Fato | Berlin (Germany) |
Latin American organizations denounced the German multinational company to the OECD for glyphosate-related damages - Caroline Oliveira / Brasil de Fato

In an unprecedented action, four organizations from Latin American countries and a German initiative joined a denouncement of the biochemical company Bayer to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) for the impacts of the pesticide glyphosate on the environment and human health.

The complaint was made to the National Contact Point (NCP) in Germany, where Bayer's headquarters are located in Leverkusen, 560 kilometers from Berlin. The body is responsible for promoting the OECD guidelines for multinational companies, as well as dealing with cases through non-judicial complaint mechanisms.  

Among the organizations petitioning the complaint are Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales, from Argentina; Terra de Direitos, from Brazil; BASE Investigaciones Sociales, from Paraguay; Fundación TIERRA, from Bolivia; and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, from Germany. The complaint was filed online, but a symbolic act was held on Thursday (25) in front of the German Ministry of Economy.

The aim is to raise awareness of Bayer's responsibility for the negative impacts on the environment due to the use of genetically modified products, such as seeds and agrochemicals based on glyphosate. According to the organizations, these impacts have violated human rights in the countries of the so-called Cono Sur region for the past 30 years.

Christian Schliemann-Radbruch, from the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, explains that the Supply Chain Act (Lieferkettensorgfaltspflichtengesetz, in German), approved in 2021 and in force since last year, obliges German companies with more than a thousand employees to take responsibility for complying with human rights in global supply chains. This involves, for instance, measures to prevent child labor, and protect human health and the environment.  

Despite being in force, the organizations argue that the actions of Bayer, which has 100,000 employees – 22,000 of them in Germany alone – don’t comply with the criteria established by the legislation.  

“Regarding corporate responsibility – not only Bayer’s, but also that of other large companies with business in the same sector – companies are expected to guarantee that human rights are not violated in their downstream value chain, that is, from production to consumption by the end user,” says Schliemann-Radbruch.

The lawyer explains that, despite genetically modified (GM) seeds being banned in Germany, the technology for this type of product comes from four companies that have the majority of market power. “Two of these companies – Bayer and Basf – are German and produce this type of seed. There are contractual relationships. With this technology, companies influence an entire value chain in these countries,” he says. 

“Given this power, they also have responsibility for damages. With this in mind, we have to go back to Germany to analyze what we can do, because Bayer’s headquarters are here, because the money the companies earn goes to Germany. So, it also has to do with German society. If it's safe here, it's not the same when we're exporting and producing negative impacts on health and other rights in other countries.”

The OECD's National Contact Point (NCP) does not have judicial power and, therefore, cannot impose such punishments on companies. Once a complaint is filed, the OECD has a period of approximately three months to decide whether or not to admit the case.  

If the complaint is accepted, mediation is held with the company to receive the requests and reach a final agreement. If this is not possible, the NCP will publish a final statement explaining the issues raised, the reasons why an agreement was not reached and may make recommendations to the company for the application of the organization's guidelines.


Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup, the world's best-selling pesticide for eliminating weeds from plantations and even public spaces. The pesticide had been produced by the agrochemical company Monsanto since the 1970s, which was bought by Bayer for US$66 billion in 2018, consolidating the company as the world's largest agrochemical and transgenic group. 

Last year, the 27 member states that make up the European Union met to decide on a ban on the pesticide. Far from consensus, the authorization to produce and sell glyphosate ended up being extended for another 10 years, until December 2033. The previous authorization, renewed in 2017 for five years, expired in December 2022. The license was then extended for another year pending a scientific and European Union analysis of its prohibition.

In Germany, one of the promises Prime Minister Olaf Scholz, member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD, in German), made in December 2021 – the year he was elected to the German Chancellery – was to end the production and marketing of glyphosate by last year. The organizations blame the delay mainly on the Liberal Party which, together with the Green Party, forms the government's center-left coalition and is blocking projects to ban the pesticide. 

Other European countries have some level of restriction on the pesticide, but do not impose a total ban, since there is no consensus on whether EU member states can legislate on the subject despite the decisions of the European Committee. In France, its use by private individuals has been banned since 2019, as well as in the Netherlands and Belgium. In Portugal, it’s banned in public spaces.

In Brazil, the National Health Surveillance Agency (Anvisa, in Portuguese) issued some restrictions on glyphosate in December 2020, but maintained its use. The previous year, in March 2019, the agency published an opinion stating that glyphosate “does not present mutagenic or carcinogenic characteristics” and that “it is not an endocrine disruptor”, i.e., it does not interfere with the production of hormones. 

Bayer leads the market in pesticides and genetically modified seeds in Brazil. According to a 2022 report by the National Technical Biosafety Commission (CTNBio, in Portuguese), glyphosate is the best-selling pesticide in Brazil. That year alone, around 800,000 active ingredients of pesticides were sold, 230,519 tons of which were glyphosate. In Paraná state alone, there were 31,270 tons of the active ingredient sold.

In the same vein, data from the Permanent Campaign Against Pesticides and For Life shows that of the 2,007 new pesticides registered under the Bolsonaro government – from January 1, 2019, until November 20, 2022 – 30% are banned in the European Union. Another piece of data used in the complaint against Bayer is that 8,412 pesticide poisonings were recorded in 2019, which represents an increase of 109% compared to 2010. Among children aged zero to 14, there were 9,806 poisonings from 2010 to 2021, being that 91 of them died. 

The discussion on whether or not to ban glyphosate is taking place in parallel with international studies pointing to the carcinogenic aspect of this pesticide. In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is linked to the World Health Organization (WHO), published a report stating that glyphosate is a potential cancer-causing agent, specifically Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. 

Brazilian case in the OECD 

In the complaint brought to the OECD, the Brazilian case in question is the consequences of the use of glyphosate on three Avá-Guarani Indigenous communities in the towns of Guaíra and Terra Roxa, about 645 kilometers from Curitiba, the capital city of Paraná state, and on the border between Brazil and Paraguay. According to the petitioning organizations, 509 of the 661 agricultural establishments in Guaíra and 921 of the 1,209 agricultural establishments in Terra Roxa use pesticides, predominantly on soya and maize plantations. 

"Intensive use of pesticides contaminates rivers, food, animals and Indigenous peoples. Pesticides are used as a chemical weapon to confine Indigenous peoples to a strip of land that is getting smaller every day. Dependent on rivers and springs for access to water, the communities report recurring illnesses such as vomiting, headaches, miscarriages, difficulty breathing and others, especially among the elderly and children,” the organizations report.  

They also state that “wild species are disappearing, such as birds, bees, butterflies, game animals and a decrease in the number of fish in the rivers and loss of food production capacity due to contaminated waters and rivers, generating impacts on the food sovereignty of these people. There are areas fumigated with pesticides near Indigenous houses or roads."

A 2023 survey by the Guarani Yvyrupá Commission, which brings together collectives of the Guarani Indigenous people in the South and Southeast of Brazil in the struggle for land, showed that excepting three villages located in urban areas, all the other Avá-Guarani communities are next to plantations.  

In some cases, the distance between the plantations and the Indigenous people's houses is less than two meters, far less than the minimum distance of 50 meters from water sources, population centers, and schools, among others, for the ground application of pesticides, as determined by Ordinance 129/2023. The survey also points out that around 60% of the communities’ territories have been taken by agribusiness, with only 1.3% occupied by crops and Indigenous housing and 12% by forests.

Jaqueline Andrade, a lawyer at Terra de Direitos, explains that “the villages are surrounded by large farms, mainly monocultures of transgenic soy with a high use of pesticides. Therefore, Indigenous communities have been denouncing a process of territorial confinement.” 

“Due to the presence of agribusiness around these communities, the level of contamination of the soil, water and intoxication of Indigenous individuals – both acute and chronic intoxication – is latent. Added to this is the fact that the Indigenous people denounce the process of loss of biodiversity, and loss of subsistence crops such as manioc, corn and beans because the pesticides hit these plants, they wither, their roots rot and the fruit doesn't grow,” she says.

Cases in other countries

In addition to the Brazilian case, populations in Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina also make up the content of the complaint. Around 60% of Colonia Yeruti, located in eastern Paraguay, around 212 kilometers from the capital city Asunción, is occupied by mechanized cultivation at the expense of peasant families who live there, even though it is a territory officially earmarked for agrarian reform. 

In addition to the loss of space for agribusiness, the constant and intense spraying with pesticides has led to part of the community being hospitalized with signs of poisoning. In 2011, one of the peasants died, and his case was reported to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which, in turn, ruled in favor of the victims. 

In Argentina, in the Villa Alicia neighborhood, which borders the soybean fields in Pergamino, entire families began to face serious health problems, including allergies and respiratory complications attributed to pesticide fumigation in the region. Clinical analyses revealed high concentrations of glyphosate and its metabolite, aminomethylphosphonic acid (also known as AMPA), in the urine of some residents, who had to move on medical advice.

One of the cases is under judicial process. In September 2019, it culminated in a precautionary measure, prohibiting the spraying of pesticides within 1,095 meters of any urban area in Pergamino, 230 kilometers from Buenos Aires, and at a minimum distance of 3,000 meters for aerial spraying.

That year, three big farmers were prosecuted for being co-perpetrators of the crime of “contaminating the environment in general, in a manner hazardous to health, through the use of waste classified as dangerous (pesticides)." In addition, two municipal officials, linked to the Production and General Secretariats, were prosecuted for continued negligence in their public responsibilities. 

 In the lawyer's words, it is also a state of “food insecurity” added to latent health issues. There are “reported cases of itchy skin, fever, vomiting and headaches, which are classic symptoms of acute intoxication, as well as many cases of depression and suicide. According to the studies we've done, pesticides play an important role in contributing to mental illness.” 

“There are also records of miscarriages precisely because of pesticide drift. There are several studies attesting that the presence of pesticides in these areas represents a risk precisely because there is an influence on endocrine and carcinogenic diseases, contaminating breast milk.”  

There are also records of the proximity of the farms to the villages, in some cases less than two meters from the homes of indigenous leaders, which goes against Brazilian regulations that establish minimum distances for the application of pesticides, whether by ground spraying, aerial spraying or spraying with drones. “These farmers are violating the very regulations that are created by environmental agencies or even by the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, which establishes these minimum distances.”

There are also records of the proximity of farms to Indigenous communities, in some cases less than two meters from the homes of Indigenous leaders. It goes against Brazilian regulations that establish minimum distances for the application of pesticides, whether by ground spraying, aerial spraying or spraying using drones. “These farmers are violating the very regulations created by environmental agencies or even by the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, which establishes these minimum distances.”

Furthermore, in some situations, Andrade says, “agrotoxins are used as chemical weapons against Indigenous communities” to expel them from territories that are in the process of being reclaimed and fought for by Indigenous people, including areas occupied by large farms.

According to Jaqueline Andrade, the organizations' studies show that large cooperatives in the towns buy products from Bayer, which holds a dominant position on the market. Herbicide Roundup, used to desiccate soybeans, is one of the main pesticides used for this purpose.

The other side

In a statement, Bayer said it was not aware of the “alleged incidents” in the countries mentioned in the report and that all its products are “thoroughly tested”. 

Read below in full:

The safety of our products is always our top priority. In the numerous safety and approval studies of our solutions, we can prove, based on solid scientific findings, that our products are safe when used according to instructions. Our chemical and biological products used in crop protection are thoroughly tested in the initial development phase for their mode of action and toxicological properties. Analyses are carried out for possible residues on plants and in the environment.

Official approvals are regulated by numerous national and international laws and guidelines. The safety studies submitted for pesticide approval are conducted following the strict international guidelines of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Our internal safety criteria are even stricter than the legal requirements.

In addition, we monitor the use of our products through extensive responsible management measures. To this end, we hold various training courses around the world every year. By 2023, we had reached almost 5.3 million farmers – including almost 4 million small farmers. In Latin America alone, we reached 300,000 farmers with training last year. 

We do not know of any alleged incidents in Paraguay, Argentina or Brazil. The description of the case does not correspond to the product and safety profile of glyphosate, which is one of the world’s most researched pesticides. For many years, scientists from the world's leading regulatory and health authorities have repeatedly concluded in their regular reviews that glyphosate is safe and non-carcinogenic when used properly – including regulatory bodies in the US, EU, Australia, Korea, Canada, New Zealand and Japan. At the end of 2023, the European Commission extended the approval of glyphosate for another ten years. With more than 180,000 pages, the scientific dossier for re-approval was the most extensive ever submitted. The dossier included 1,500 studies and the evaluation of more than 12,000 scientific articles as to the relevance and reliability of their data. When analyzing the effects of glyphosate on human and animal health and the environment, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) did not identify any critical problems, after the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) had already concluded that glyphosate is not carcinogenic.

Edited by: Vivian Virissimo