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Refugee Labor Abuses Run Rampant on Hazelnut Farms Used by Nestle, Nutella

Most of the world’s hazelnuts are harvested in Turkey. The workers harvesting them don’t earn enough to live, according to a New York Times report.

hands holding hazelnuts during harvest
A handful of hazelnuts left out to dry in Duzce, Turkey.
Omer Urer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

On Monday, the New York Times published a damning report by David Segal about the Syrian refugees who perform backbreaking labor on the farms that produce 70 percent of the world’s hazelnuts for confectionery companies like Nestle, Godiva, and Nutella. The story details how refugees, displaced by the Syrian war, are exploited in the 600,000 hazelnut farms scattered throughout Turkey. Here are some of the most eye-opening points; for the complete picture, read the article over at the Times.

Workers earn next to nothing

According to the Times, nearly all farms in Turkey pay minimum wage (2,020 lira or $339 USD per month) but even so, that’s not enough to keep a family above the country’s poverty line (6,543 Turkish lira or $1,100 USD per month for a family of four). Refugee workers must also contend with unregulated middlemen — known as dayibasi — who connect workers to farmers and take at least 10 percent of a worker’s wages, often more.

Syrian worker Shakar Rudani was allegedly promised 80 to 100 Turkish lira a day by one such middleman, Rudani’s son tells the Times that “when my father got there, he realized that all the supervisors were cheating people. One of them told my father, ‘We’ll give you 50 lira a day, and that’s it.’” Rudani and his sons had no other recourse than to continue working for below the minimum wage.

In some cases, the Times reports, the middlemen will provide laborers with loans between harvests, resulting in a form of indentured servitude in which laborers are paid just enough for food and shelter, and are given business cards that function as IOUs until end-of-harvest paydays. In the worst cases, middlemen will disappear with stolen wages — or they’ll just boldly take them “without bothering to vanish,” Segal writes.

For most workers, there’s no point in reporting labor violations; there are no formal contracts on which to build a case for the police.

Workers have little legal recourse or protections

“In six years of monitoring, we have never found a single hazelnut farm in Turkey in which all decent work principle standards are met,” Richa Mittal, the director of innovation and research of the Fair Labor Association, told the Times.

Segal reports, , “Turkey’s Labor Code does not apply to agricultural businesses with fewer than 50 employees, so much of the policing of this crop falls to confectionery companies.” And unchecked multibillion-dollar companies, as we all know, aren’t known for their benevolent oversight and fair treatment of workers.

Child labor is still prevalent

With such low wages, many Syrian refugees are forced to put their children to work alongside them for the harvest. Nawwaf Ibrahim, a former taxi driver in Syria, is only able to rent a dilapidated house near Adana, Turkey, because three of his teenage children work with him in the fields. The families that don’t have those extra hands, he said, are forced to live in plastic tents along the side of the road.

Child labor is one of the few issues Nestle explicitly acknowledges. The company told the Times that the problem has “deteriorated in the last year” because of the war in Syria. On its website, Nestle advertises that 2,450 children benefited in 2017 from the company’s “activities to address child labor in hazelnut orchards.” For context: in 2017, approximately 320,000 children in Turkey were working, more than half of them in agriculture.

Confectionery companies are shrouded in secrecy

While Nestle is publicizing the positive outcomes of its efforts, the vast majority of the company programs to address working conditions are kept private, making it impossible to judge the success of their activities. Ferrero (as in Ferrero Rocher) the biggest buyer of hazelnuts, refuses to “name a single farm that its suppliers buy from, although simple arithmetic suggests that the answer is “most of them,’” as Segal writes for the Times.

Without knowing what farms these companies are sourcing from, it’s impossible to fully investigate how much companies like Nestle, Godiva, and Nutella are directly implicated in an industry with such blatant humanitarian shortcomings.

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