Poverty Among Workers in the Cashew IndustryWithin the past few decades, diet culture has no doubt become a fad in the United States. From weight loss pills and body slimmers to obsessive calorie counting, diet fads are everywhere. For many, dieting means consuming foods that are high in protein and low in cholesterol and saturated fats. A popular type of food that fits this category is cashews. Convenient when it comes to on-the-go snacks, these moon-shaped nuts are full of protein and healthy monounsaturated fats that make them an ideal snack for dieters.

The top importer of cashews for the past decade, the U.S. imported over 147,000 tons of cashews in 2016, a 32 percent increase from the past four years. Of these imports, 92 percent came from Brazil, India and Vietnam. While the high demand for cashews makes them easily accessible to first-world consumers, these tasty treats come with a price: the poverty among workers in the cashew industry.

The Problem: Hazardous & Unethical Working Conditions

Tamil Nadu, a state in India, is home to a vast amount of cashew farms. Around 500,000 Indian citizens work on these farms, the majority of whom are women, some as young as 13. Because these employees are hired without contracts, their employers have no obligation to provide steady incomes, pensions or holiday pay. On top of that, cashew harvesting is physically dangerous.

When harvesting cashews, one must break through two layers of shells to get to the nut. In between those two layers of shells are two chemicals, known as cardol and anacardic acid. Upon coming into contact with the skin, these chemicals leave painful burns. While a simple pair of gloves could protect the hands and flesh of cashew harvesters, employers refuse to permit or provide gloves because they slow down the harvesting process.

The average cashew harvester in India earns around 160 rupees per 10-hour day. This equates to $1.90 per 10-hour day. This amount is not just below the poverty line but below the extreme poverty line. In 2015, around 70,000 cashew harvesters in India went on strike, demanding an increase of 70 cents per day. However, with or without this raise, this wage remains below the poverty line.

Multiple supermarkets that import cashews from Tamil Nadu have voluntarily signed up to be members of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI). However, they have not taken action to prevent the unethical conditions of the cashew plantations contributing to the overall poverty among workers in the cashew industry.

The Solution: Combating Unethicality

In 2013, upon acknowledging the poverty among workers in the cashew industry, a company in India called Acceso Cashew Enterprise Private Limited (ACE) was formed. Partnering with U.S. nonprofit Technoserve, ACE works to address inefficiencies in farming practices and conditions of the cashew industry. ACE created an agriculture program to increase the number of cashew crops grown in India utilizing the least amount of resources. This program also improves farmers’ incomes by teaching them sustainability techniques and strengthening their market linkages. In 2014, over 1,000 farmers participated in the program.

Aatmaram Yashvant Agre, a farmer who participated in ACE’s agricultural program, successfully implemented the sustainability techniques to improve his farming. As a result, Agre’s overall cashew production grew by 30 percent. ACE, which works to end global poverty through business solutions, encourages advocacy on the issue of poverty and always accepts donations. By ensuring cashew harvesters are utilizing more efficient farming practices, their profits increase. Thus, poverty among workers in the cashew industry decreases. More efficient farming practices also ensure cashew harvesters avoid practices that cause them physical harm. And ultimately, this enables cashew harvesters to live humanely and lead healthier lives.

– Emily Turner
Photo: Flickr