The sharp increase in vegan diets has been described as one of the driving factors behind increasing cashew consumption, according to a major report in the Mail Online.
The UK consumed 17,000 tons of the nuts in 2016 – a 35 percent increase from 2012.
But according to the Mail’s investigation of the cashew industry, this demand is having a devastating effect on workers.
Vietnam and India are the leading developing countries supplying cashew nuts to Europe, according to a 2019 report by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Investigating for the Mail, journalist Emily Clark visited the Indian state of Tamil Nadu to talk to shellers, and find out more about their work.
She discovered that of the 500,000-strong cashew-shelling workforce, most are women, and all are ’employed without contracts, with no guarantee of steady income, no pension or holiday pay’.
In addition, it is painful work. Cashews have two layers of hard shell. Between the layers are cardol and anacardic acid. These are caustic substances which give the shellers painful burns. Workers are not provided with gloves, which would slow them down – they are paid per kilo of nuts they shell.
Clark spoke to one woman, called Pushpa, who had burns on her hands, arms, and face, from the acid.
“It’s already starting to burn,” Pushpa told Clark. “Today when we go home and wash, we will see the boils on our skin. It takes about a week for them to heal. But as the old ones heal, new ones keep coming.”
Clark also discovered workers as young as 13 shelling nuts
Problems in the industry
This is not the first time these issues within the industry have been raised. A number of outlets have reported on this issue, included a 2015 article by The Guardian.
The Guardian quoted Liz May, Head of Policy at Traidcraft, an organization helping to fight poverty through trade. She said: “Farmers and workers across the world are suffering every day because of unfair trading practices by supermarkets. It’s time the EU took action and set up a regulator with the power to stop abuses by retailers that result in extremely low pay and appalling working conditions.”
Clark also cites European supermarkets as a factor in the poor conditions endured by cashew workers, saying British retailers should ‘better police their supply chains’, adding that the major names have ‘voluntarily signed up to the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI)’. This means certain working conditions must be in place.
The British Retail Consortium put out a statement saying: “Retailers are conscious of the problems that exist in parts of India’s cashew industry and therefore are careful to work with suppliers who provide decent working conditions.”