November 18, 2021
Photo source: Anton Shuvalov on Unsplash Image description: Red cashew apple with cashew stemming from bottom hanging from a tree.

When most people think of Fairtrade, a handful of products come to mind: Coffee, sugar, and cocoa are some of the most highly sought-after commodities in the world. But Fairtrade doesn’t stop there. They also cover a diversity of nuts, oilseeds, and pitted fruits.

The cashew producing industry is one of the most exploitative industries that fall under this category. Although Canada is a major importer of cashew, Fairtrade cashew options in Canada are almost non-existent. In the meantime, cashew consumption is rising in popularity, which largely has to do with their utility in plant-based products, like cashew cheeses and ice creams. As demand steadily increases, exploitation in the cashew industry needs to be addressed now more than ever.

Cashews cannot safely be sold unshelled. The manufacturing process is tedious and dangerous, which is why they are particularly expensive.  This is also why exploitation runs rampant in the industry.

Photo source: Emily Clark for the Daily Mail Image description: A worker on a cashew plantation holds palms out with broken gloves exposing burnt hands. Kneeled down with cashews below which are black from roasting.

Cashews are covered by a shell which contains a toxic chemical called anacardic acid. Despite the fact that this causes severe irritation and damage to the skin, cashews are commonly shelled using the bare hands of workers. To make matters worse, the smoke released during the roasting process can cause health problems for workers when inhaled. In the meantime, workers aren’t paid a fair wage for their hard work.

Child labour and forced labour is also common. According to the International Labour Organization, approximately 168 million children are forced to pick and deshell cashews. In Vietnam, the biggest cashew exporting country in the world, drug addicts are lured to rehabilitation centers where they are forced to work on cashew farms unpaid and with inhumane conditions.

Fairtrade can help create safer working conditions and ensure fair wages for cashew labourers through the Fairtrade Minimum Price. For example, by conducting third-party audits, Fairtrade can ensure protective gear is mandated and worker rights are being respected.

Unfortunately, Fairtrade cashews scarcely exist in Canada. The only Canadian company selling Fairtrade cashews is Quebec-based Umano. But this isn’t a viable option for most consumers, as they only sell wholesale and the price for the smallest amount - 10kg - is 250 CAD.

There are a few plant-based products composed with Fairtrade cashews available in Canada. Canadian brand Nuts for Cheese is the world’s first plant based cheese with Fairtrade ingredients.

Boycotting conventional cashews is the only way you can be sure you’re not supporting the dangerous labor practices perpetuated in the industry. You can also pressure cashew companies to source from Fairtrade producers.  In one of our upcoming projects, we will focus on raising the awareness of Fairtrade cashews. Our very first move is to write a few email templates which can be sent out to some of these companies. Please stay tuned on our Instagram and Twitter for new updates.