In a damning investigation, the New York Times shines a light on Turkey’s hazelnut harvest — part of an exploitative industry that runs off the labor of Syrian refugees who are overworked, underpaid, and trapped.
Per the report, approximately 70 percent of the of the world’s hazelnuts come from Turkey, which sells its products to major foodstuff companies: Nestlé, Godiva, and notably, Ferrero, the Nutella-maker which purchases a whopping one-third of the country’s harvest. But before the hazelnuts are ground and pressed into chocolatey products, they pass through the hands of a workforce increasingly made up of Syrian refugees, many of whom lack legal protections and are subjected to horrific working conditions.
In interviews with the Times, workers say they harvest and haul hazelnuts during 12-hour shifts, sometimes seven days a week; another farmer describes hauling 110-pound bags up mountains where the ground is so steep, “you can never just stand up straight.” While no two farms are the same, Fair Labor Association Richa Mittal told the Times that “in six years of monitoring, [they] have never found a single hazelnut farm in Turkey in which all decent work principle standards are met.”
As is often the case, the dangerous working conditions are compounded by extremely low pay and a lack of regulations. The son of one farmer, Muhammad Rudani, said that his father was promised 80 to 100 Turkish lira a day; upon arriving on the farm, however, the middleman who connected him to the farm told him he could make no more than 50 Turkish lira a day — less than $8.50 in USD.
“This is the reality,” another middleman admitted to the Times. “Most middlemen take money and don’t give rights to their workers.”
And, because wages are so low, many parents have no choice but to send their children to work, too — a disturbing trend that extends across many agricultural jobs in Turkey. “People who don’t have enough family members to work are forced to live in plastic tents by the side of the road,” Nawwaf Ibrahim, a orange farmer, told the Times. Because three of his teenage children work with him, he says can afford shelter: a decaying house.
The report doesn’t end optimistically. For these companies to meet international demand, many have to buy Turkish hazelnuts, which in turn supports the exploitative system. And, though a spokesperson for Ferrero said they expect their independent farms to be “dedicated to providing its people with safe and decent working conditions,” the company is notoriously secretive about how they source their ingredients, and what, if anything, they’re doing to ensure they’re buying responsibly.
Just something to think about next time you buy Nutella!