The first time I visited a hazelnut farm, I was struck by the scale of the operation. Over the summer months, thousands of seasonal workers from the poorest parts of the country arrive in Turkey’s hazelnut growing regions to gather the crop. That scale is essential to supply hazelnuts to customers around the world to use in anything from confectionery, to spreads, to plant-based snacks. But it also raises difficult questions about how to ensure a workforce that is so transitory gets the rights and protections they are entitled to.
Many food supply chains face the same challenge. Much of the world’s food is grown and harvested by farmers or workers who struggle to make enough money to support their families. And that can have all sorts of knock-on effects, from poor conditions for workers to child labor. The question facing food companies, and their suppliers, is how to tackle these issues when they are so often rooted in deeper social and economic problems?
It’s something that, as ofi, we grapple with across the ingredients we source, from cocoa and coffee, to nuts and spices. Working with farmers across these supply chains has helped us to understand the challenges at play in our food systems. It’s also helping us find some of the answers by working together. Across our ingredients supply chains, we’re able to share knowledge and identify the actions and tools that will help us to be the change for good food and a healthy future.
The first step is to understand the root causes. In the case of hazelnuts, production is mostly manual and depends on workers who migrate from the southeast of the country for the harvest. Often they live in temporary accommodation and work long hours for low wages. To understand these risks, ofi supported the Fair Labor Association’s (FLA) Harvesting the Future Project, which mapped the profiles and movement of farm workers as they travelled the country from one crop to another. Key findings were that most hazelnut farmers were smallholders, they recruited and paid workers through a labor contractor, and 72% of farm workers had no contract.
Understanding this makes it easier to identify the action to take. For example, in 2018 as a first for the hazelnut and Turkish agricultural sector, ofi introduced labor contracts for seasonal workers. These set minimum wage guarantees, legal working hours and minimum housing standards. Labor contractors also registered into the Turkish employment system, paving the way for regulated employment in the sector. Now, we’re working with the International Labor Organisation (ILO), FLA and the Turkish authorities, to promote these contracts so they can be used more widely across the agricultural sector in Turkey.
That brings me to the next part of the puzzle: partnerships. No company can solve these kinds of challenges alone. They can’t transform a sector without help. And certainly not at the speed and scale that’s really required. In over a decade of running social and sustainability programmes across our supply chains, our greatest successes have been in collaboration with customers, NGOs and government bodies. In the hazelnut supply chain, for example, we’ve worked with the ILO and Save the Children to create summer schools as safe spaces for the children of migrant workers to play, learn and not work, leading to a five-year low in children working in the orchards.
As an industry, we need partnerships like this to help us be the change for good and unleash more value for the people and communities behind our food. All players in the supply chain – food companies, their suppliers, farming groups, labor agencies, charities and national authorities – have a role to play in driving ambitious, large-scale programs that can make a real difference to conditions on the ground. And at the same time, reassure consumers that their pralines, spreads, pastes, milks and other products not only taste great, but also carry a positive story for the communities they came from. Partnerships like this are driving big changes in coffee and cocoa; they can do so for hazelnuts too.
Finally, it is important to have clear targets to hold ourselves accountable. It’s why at ofi we have just launched our first public sustainability targets for hazelnuts, committing to eliminate child labor and improve conditions for thousands of seasonal migrant workers by 2030, while offering more transparency for customers. This follows the launch of similar strategies for cocoa, coffee, dairy and cashew. While we have supported hazelnut farmers and workers with agronomy, labor rights, and community services for over ten years, these new public goals challenge us to do more and to report transparently on our progress via detailed data on insights platform AtSource.
As one company, we can only do so much. But by working together, we can achieve real progress for the farmers and workers in our food supply chains. That’s why we are calling on the sector to collaborate on this. Not just to support our 2030 goals, and not just in hazelnuts, but to deliver more value, more transparency, more sustainability impact across all food supply chains.