Cashew nuts, practical but not always ethical
Cashews are an increasingly popular food: they are nutritious, convenient and versatile. But it also hides decried production methods, while the supply of fair trade nuts remains very low, noted L'épicerie.
Cashew nuts are in great demand all over the world.
Like almonds, walnuts and peanuts, cashews are popular. It can be eaten both raw and processed, including as a drink, butter or fauxmage, a vegan cheese substitute.
Production and sales of cashew nuts are growing everywhere in the world. In 2020, more than 4 million tons were produced worldwide. By volume, more cashews are produced than peanuts or walnuts.
The cashew nut is harvested mainly in Africa, notably in Ghana, Tanzania, Guinea-Bissau, Nigeria, Côte d'Ivoire and Burkina Faso. Part of the production also comes from Brazil.
But this nut travels a long way before reaching the grocery store shelves.
Indeed, the cashew nut needs to be dried, then heated, before being shelled.
The cashew nut is actually called the cashew nut. It is the seed contained in the cashew apple, which is the fruit of the cashew tree.
At the grocery store, the supply of cashews is abundant. But it is impossible for the consumer to know where they come from.
Producing countries process cashew nuts little. The nuts are instead sent to India and Vietnam, where they are shelled and sorted before being exported to consumer markets.
Which has a price. At $30 per kilo, cashews cost more than almonds.
You have to pay for the transport from Africa to Vietnam or India, explains Jean-Jacques Koonou, director of operations at PR International, one of the largest importers in the country. Then you need a whole process of transformation. It is a very labor intensive production. If I take the example of a factory that processes about 15,000 tons of cashew nuts annually, it takes up to about 400 people.
C& #x27;is the second shell inside the nut that is so labor intensive. It needs to be removed manually using a knife.
It takes about four containers of raw cashews to make one container of cashews, precise Mr. Koonou.
Over the years, several news reports and NGO reports have denounced the working conditions in some processing plants.
These reports shocked Christian Guiollot, a fair trade coffee importer from Sherbrooke.
Many consumers were alerted during a report that was filmed in India, where we see in workshops that women – mostly women – shell the nuts by hand, without any protection, explains Mr. Guiollot.
A France 2 report broadcast in 2019 shows that in India, women burn their fingers while peeling the chain of cashew nuts.
“Inside the shells of the nuts there is a substance, a kind of acid, which can burn hands if handled all day long. »
— Christian Guiollot, founder and co-owner, Umano fair trade
The fair trade specialist therefore set out to look for fair trade cashews, processed under acceptable working conditions.< /p>
He found them in Burkina Faso and imports them to Canada directly from the cooperative. According to data from Fairtrade Canada, it is the only one to offer it in the country. And even if there are hundreds of small fair trade producers, the production of these nuts is very marginal in the world.
There are so few of them because, often, in the products fair, we will pay a little more: there are higher wage conditions for producers. And, of course, it's an organic product , adds Mr. Guiollot.
Umano manages to obtain a competitive price, however, by choosing cashew nuts broken in half. For Mr. Guiollot, they are also good and practical to cook.
For Jean-Jacques Koonou of PR International, working conditions are improving in production plants. Even if he does not visit them all, he makes sure to work with suppliers who respect labor standards in the processing countries.
I had the #x27;opportunity to visit the factory of one of our suppliers in Nigeria: people were well equipped to work, assures Mr. Koonou.
For his part, Christian Guiollot thinks that working conditions are not bad everywhere. I don't know. I would say I doubt it. Now it's up to traders, importers, to demonstrate it, to prove it.
For the consumer, it is impossible to know where the cashew nuts sold in grocery store. The majority of products display no provenance or only that of the last place of processing, i.e. the packaging, either in Canada or the United States.