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.