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UN experts say Monsanto ruling is a first step to "victory for human rights"

GENEVA (15 August 2018) –  Two UN human rights* experts welcomed the decision by a California court awarding $289 million compensation to school groundkeeper Mr. Dewayne Johnson after a jury found that the company did not place a warning label on its weedkillers that widespread use could cause terminal cancer.

On 10 August 2018, the jury in the Superior Court of California in San Francisco found Monsanto liable for Mr. Johnson’s cancer and ordered that the company pay $39 million in compensation and $250 million in punitive damages. The decision reflected the 2015 assessment that glyphosate (a component of Monsanto’s principal weedkiller product) was classified by the World Health Organization as “probably carcinogenic to humans”.

“The ruling recognises the potential causal relations between cancer and Monsanto’s glyphosate-based weedkillers, including RoundUp, and the company’s negligence by failing to inform users of cancer risks. This decision is a significant recognition of the human rights of victims, and the responsibilities of chemical companies,” the experts declared.

“Unsafe and excessive use of chemicals has negative impacts on a wide range of human rights including rights to life, food, water, health as well as to a healthy environment,” said Ms. Hilal Elver, the Special Rapporteur on the right to food.

Ms. Elver submitted a report to the Human Rights Council in 2017, compiled in collaboration with Mr. Tuncak, which asserted that a significant amount of scientific research confirmed the adverse effects of pesticides, proving a definitive link between exposure and human health. Harm to the ecosystem also presented a challenge, exacerbated by systematic denials based on research funded by the agroindustry, of the gravity and even the reality of harm inflicted by these chemicals.

According to the court decision “internal company documents" demonstrate that Monsanto has known for decades that glyphosate, and specifically Roundup, could cause cancer.

The plaintiff Mr. Johnson suffers from terminal cancer and doctors say he is unlikely to live beyond 2020.

“We regret that the ruling came too late as Mr. Johnson is suffering from terminal cancer. No monetary compensation is adequate for his life. We express our deepest condolences for his pain and suffering and praise his courage and unwavering will to fight for his rights,” the experts said.

The verdict comes just weeks before the release of a report on the rights of agricultural workers that Ms. Elver will present in New York to the United Nations General Assembly.   

“This decision, although significant on its own, will be appealed, and it is not final. It is a substantial warning to agro-businesses and chemical companies to avoid such harmful results and to put in place precautionary measures when in doubt about the impacts of products and put human health and rights before profit,” the experts added.  


(*) Ms Hilal Elver, Special Rapporteur on the right to food; Mr. Dainius Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

For inquiries and media requests, please contact: Soo-Young Hwang +41 22 917 9267 / shwang@ohchr.org).

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org)

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rightswww.standup4humanrights.org.